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Digitising the Medical Journal of Australia - a centenary gift to the nation

Paul A L Lancaster
Med J Aust 2014; 201 (1): 27. || doi: 10.5694/mja14.00685
Published online: 7 July 2014

To the Editor: Just as the juxtaposed centenary of the First World War is creating intense national and international interest, the centenary of the Medical Journal of Australia is an excellent opportunity to delve into the history of Australia's health. The Journal has recently published historical articles and photographs, often informing readers about forgotten stories. It is the national repository of invaluable information about health care and medical research, with related editorials, medical biographies and much more. While articles selected by the Journal's editorial staff undoubtedly raise interest, much greater scope for historical and genealogical research would be satisfied if all issues of the Journal were digitised.

Early issues of the printed Journal are accessible in major libraries and universities in capital cities, but these are much less readily available in new medical schools, to international scholars and for the general community.

More than 200 years ago, the first issue of the New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery (now New England Journal of Medicine) had as its first article “Remarks on angina pectoris” by John Warren.1 This and all subsequent articles are now available online. Online access to other major medical journals dates back to issues published from October 1823 for The Lancet, October 1840 for the Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal (now BMJ) and July 1883 for the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Here in the Antipodes, selected articles published in the Medical Journal of Australia since January 1996 are available online. Since January 2002, whole issues have been available online to subscribers. Complete issues of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery (from June 1931), Australian and New Zealand Journal of Medicine (now Internal Medicine Journal; from February 1971) and the New Zealand Medical Journal (from November 1999) are available as e-journals.

Access to these e-journals and their online format varies. For many, selected articles are free but access to other articles requires a subscription or payment. All are available through university libraries to academic staff and students.

The National Library of Australia provides extraordinary and free access to a veritable treasure-trove of major city and regional newspapers.2 For example, all issues of the Sydney Morning Herald from 1842 to 1954 can be searched online.

As a valued service to its regular readers and a gift to historical researchers and family historians, not only in Australia but worldwide, it is timely for the Journal to digitise its vast centenary of issues, either alone or in partnership with the National Library of Australia.

  • Paul A L Lancaster

  • School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.

Correspondence: pallancaster@gmail.com

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

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