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Society for the History of Natural History

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Sir Hans Sloane Correspondence online

Sir Hans Sloane Correspondence online

"Sir Hans Sloane’s Correspondence Online" website has been launched. The pilot project allows you to search over 1,400 letters addressed to the physician, scientist and collector, Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753). The letters cover a wide variety of subjects, from medical cases and scholarly disputes to travel or collecting. Most of the letters are in English, although several are in Latin or French.

The Sloane correspondence is a rich source for researchers, providing insight into several aspects of the past such as: family history, medical treatments, illness experiences, doctor-patient relationships, family history, patronage, libraries, collections or scientific networks. The collection is vast, comprised of thirty-eight volumes of approximately 350 folios each, with authors writing from across the world–the British Isles to China–on a range of scientific, scholarly and medical matters. Sloane, as Secretary and later President of the Royal Society, was at the heart of the scientific world, while his patients came from the highest levels of society. Although Sloane kept most of the letters written to him, he preserved few of his own draft letters. Even so, Sloane can be found through his hastily scrawled Latin prescriptions on patients’ letters or through letter-writers’ references to their encounters with Sloane and his family.

At present, the website is best used as a finding tool for the Sloane correspondence, which is held at the British Library (Sloane MSS 4036-4069 and 4075-4078).  The collection is also available at many research libraries on microfilm.

The Sloane MSS 4036-4069 and 4075-4078 (British Library, London) contain Sloane’s correspondence, ca. 1680-1745. MSS 4036-4069 include primarily scientific and occasional medical letters, while MSS 4075-4078 are only medical letters. The first thirty-four volumes are organised by date and alphabetically, while the medical letters are organised alphabetically.

There have been some previous attempts to index the letters, but only by author. The main finding aid is E. J. L. Scott, Index to the Sloane Manuscripts in the British Museum (London, 1904, reprinted 1971). Scott indexed over 4000 volumes of Sloane Manuscripts according to class headings ranging from art and astronomy to theology and zoology, but Scott did not index the contents of individual letters. Although Adam Matthew Publications provides a listing by correspondent or MSS 4036-4069 and the British Library has a search function for the index records of each manuscript, such searches are most helpful when a researcher knows a specific author’s name.

The Sloane Correspondence database at this site allows researchers to search several volumes in more powerful and useful ways. The database can be searched by names, terms, places or even sex (for example) and will bring up any related references. At present, the following Sloane MSS are available for searching: all of 4037 and 4075, most of 4038-4041 and some of 4036, 4042-4044.

More letter descriptions and transcriptions will be made available as they are added to the database.

If you have any feedback on or questions about the site, please contact:

Dr. Lisa Smith
Department of History
University of Saskatchewan