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History of Diseases

Explore library resources related to the history of various diseases.

In Film

  • Bright Star. A film by Jane Campion. 2010.The drama based on the three-year romance between 19th century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, which was cut short by Keats' death by pulmonary tuberculosis at age 25.Available from Hamilton Public Library (2011)
  • Camille. A film directed by George Cukor, staring Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor. 109 mins. (1936)

    A Parisian courtesan must choose between the young man who loves her and the callous baron who wants her, even as her own health begins to fail.

    National Film Board of Canada. Lost Songs. Directed by Clint Alberta. 1999, (24 mins.)


  • Documentary of the experiences of Aboriginal Canadians who were patients at the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital in Edmonton. Includes archival footage and photos. The patients talk about their years of hospitalization, after being forced to leave behind their traditional northern communities for unfamiliar urban environments.

  • Direct Cinema. Tuberculosis in America : the people's plague. A film by Diane Carey and Lawrence R. Hott ; written by Kage Kleiner. Santa Monica, CA : Direct Cinema, 1995. 2 videocassettes (114 min.) VHS.


    Documentary on the history of tuberculosis in America. Told through personal stories of dozens of TB survivors and from the view point of health care workers and researchers.

  • Hope : a Red Cross seal story / sponsor, the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis ; produced by Thomas A. Edison, Inc. ; director, Charles J. Brabin ; writer, James Oppenheim. United States : Thomas A. Edison, Inc., 1912 ; United States : Distributed exclusively by Image Entertainment : ǂb National Film Preservation Foundation, 2007.

    The initial film in the series, the now-lost Red Cross seal (1910), told of a tenement girl who ekes out her living decorating lamp shades but who wins the $100 prize for designing that year's Christmas seal, money that she then gives to the consumptive boy across the hall to pay for his treatment at a sanatorium. Hope was released to theaters on November 16, two days before release of the 3 million 1912 stamps. These collaborations between Edison and the Tuberculosis Association were probably the first film series produced for health education. They achieved the association's goal of presenting 'the anti-tuberculosis movement in a dramatic and interesting manner,' and were popular in commercial film theaters.

  • On the Lake:life and love in a distant place. Documentary. 2009

    A true story of the tuberculosis epidemic in America in the 1900s and globally today through the lives of those who became sick and died -- but also of patients who survived against great odds. It's an emotional story of true-life tales of friendship and love in tragic circumstances, a triumph of the human spirit for those who survived.Available from Hamilton Public Library (2011)

  • Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. Based on Thomas Mann's 1924 novel Magic Mountain about a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Swiss alps. 2009 Available from Hamilton Public Library (2011)

In Literature

  • Barrett, Andrea. The Air We Breathe: a novel. 2007

In fall 1916, Americans debate whether to enter the European war. "Preparedness parades" march and headlines report German spies. But in an isolated community in the Adirondacks, the danger is barely felt. At Tamarack Lake the focus is on the sick. Wealthy tubercular patients live in private cure cottages; charity patients, mainly immigrants, fill the large public sanatorium. For all, time stands still. Prisoners of routine and yearning for absent families, the patients, including the newly arrived Leo Marburg, take solace in gossip, rumor, and sometimes secret attachments. An enterprising patient initiates a weekly discussion group. When his well-meaning efforts lead instead to a tragic accident and a terrible betrayal, the war comes home, bringing with it a surge of anti-immigrant prejudice and vigilante sentiment. The conjunction of thwarted desires and political tension binds the patients so deeply that, finally, they speak about what's happened in a single voice. The Air We Breathe, though entirely self-contained, extends the web of connected characters begun with Ship Fever.

  • Conrad, Joseph. The nigger of the Narcissus: a tale of the forecastle. 1914.
  • Cronin, A. J. The Citadel . Boston : Little, Brown & Co., 1937.


    It is said to have paved the way for Britain's National Health Service in the following decade. A film based on this novel was released in 1938.

  • Degens, T. On the third ward . New York : Harper & Row, 1990.


    Confined to a tuberculosis ward in Germany in the early 1950s, a group of children deal with life, death, and plans to escape.

  • Dumus, Alex. fils. Camille :(La dame aux camilles) Classic tale of courtesan who suffers from tuberculosis. Film made
  • Ellis, A. E. The rack . Boston : Little, Brown, 1958.
  • Ellism Ella Thorp. The Year of My Indian Prince. 2002

    A fictionalized version of the author's experiences in 1946 when, at the age of sixteen, she was admitted to a San Francisco tuberculosis hospital and courted by a Maharajah's son.

  • Hunter, Bernice Thurman. A place for Margaret. Richmond Hill, Ont. : Scholastic Canada, 1984. Juvenile fiction
  • Mann, Thomas. Magic Mountain. 1924. Tuberculosis patients in a Swiss sanatorium.
  • McGrath, Eamonn. The charnel house. Belfast, Ireland : Blackstaff: 1990.
  • Patterson, Keith. Consumption. Toronto, Ont.: 2006 Tuberculosis among the Inuit in Canada
  • Puig, Manuel. Heartbreak tango: a serial. Translated by Suzanne Jill Levine. New York:Dutton, 1973. Tuberculosis patient in Argentina
  • Remarque, Erich Maria.Three comrades; translated from the German by A.W. Wheen. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1937. Tuberculosis patients in Germany
  • Ripley, Don. Thine Own Keeper:Life at the Nova Scotia Sanatorium, 1904-1977. Hantsport, N.S.: Lancelot Press, 1992

  • Rothermell, Fred. A preface to death. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1932. Tuberculosis patients in New Mexico, U.S.
  • Sims, Diane. A Life Consumed: Lily Samson's Dispatches from the TB Front. 2008

    In 1923 Lilly Samson, a teacher in a one-room school in Goulais River north of Sault Ste Marie, contracted TB. She was 22 years old and engaged to be married. A year later she entered a sanatorium in Gravenhurst, Ontario. She died there in 1927. Before she did, though, she wrote a series of letters that her niece Diane Sims has made the centrepiece of a remarkably moving and thought provoking look at TB in Canada in the 20s, a time when receiving a diagnosis of TB, according to Susan Sontag, was like learning you have cancer today. In a combination of discursive prose, fictional recreation, forensic fact-finding and historical commentary, Sims arrays a variety of constellations around Lillys letters. There is the national, where the 22 sanatoria across the country embraced all classes of Canadians, including Mackenzie Kings brother Douglas who compared fighting TB to surviving on the front lines. There is the medical/political, where provision of TB care for all its citizens was Saskatchewans precursor to medicare. There is the social, where Lilly gets to know Dr. Norman Bethune, himself a patient at the Gravenhurst sanatorium, their isolated community within a community. There is the personal, where Lilly, by turns hopeful and deeply angry at this theft of her life, enters into a relationship with another patient.

  • Snyder, Carol. Ike and Mama and the seven surprises . New York : Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1985. Juvenile fiction
  • Slonczewski, Joan. “Tuberculosis bacteria join UN” in Year's best SF 6 edited by David G. Hartwell. HarperCollins, 2000
  • Sontag, Susasn. Illness as Metaphor. London, Eng.: Allen Lane, 1979. She discusses tuberculosis in folklore and literature.

  • Stewart, Donald Ogden. Sanatorium : a novel. New York: Harper & Bros. Publishers, 1930.
  • Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin, or life among the lowly. Example of romanticized consumption.
  • Tsukiyama, Gail.The samurai's garden. New York : St. Martin's Griffin, 1994. Tuberculosis patient in

In Music

Rogers, Jimmy, (1897-1933) T.B. Blues. Many versions available on Youtube.