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History of the ANZSHM

In October 1953, the Society began as the Section of Medical History of the Victorian Branch of the British Medical Association (BMA). Membership was restricted to members of the BMA resulting in an almost entirely medical membership. The aims of the Society were to further the study of medical history and to support the collection of historical material and formation of a museum.

By the 1960s applications for ‘Associate’ membership were being accepted from individuals without medical qualifications; the number of those members steadily grew, with a limit of 10 per cent of the total membership.

In 1962, with the formation of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), came the Section of Medical History of the Victorian Branch of the AMA. In 1982 with an amendment, the group officially became the Medical History Society, AMA (Victoria).

In February 1980, the first National Symposium on the History of Medicine and Health in Australia was held in Sydney; selected papers were published under the title Australia’s Quest for Colonial Health. Dr Frank Forster was President of the MHSV 1980-82 and having attended the Sydney Conference decided that a National Society was warranted. To garner support a newsletter, Medical History Australia (MHA), was initiated in August 1981.

In November 1984, the Second National Conference was held in Melbourne. Papers presented were published as Occasional Papers on Medical History Australia. The conference resolved to form a national society, appointing a planning committee chaired by Professor Harold Attwood. At the Third National Conference held in Adelaide on 25 November 1986, the Australian Society of the History of Medicine (ASHM) was established, being incorporated in Victoria.

The progenitors of the ASHM were the Medical History Unit, University of Melbourne, and those prior two National Conferences on Medical History and Health. The Victorian newsletter Medical History Australia became the publication of the ASHM at its foundation in 1986, available only to ASHM members, leading to understandable disappointment for MHSV members unless they had dual memberships.

In July 1994, the Victorian Branch of the AMA restructured its organisation with a prerequisite that any academic affiliated organisation have an AMA membership of 40. The Section found that despite its growth in overall membership, it was unable to meet this requirement. In 1997 it thus formed a separate incorporated body, the Medical History Society of Victoria, with no restrictions on full membership eligibility.

In 2005 New Zealand joined the ASHM, following a unanimous vote at the Auckland ASHM AGM, the combined group being renamed the Australian and New Zealand Society of the History of Medicine (ANZSHM).

It was not until 2009 at the AGM of the MHSV that its President was able to announce that the Victorian Society was now a branch of the ANZSHM, and later that year, the NSW Society of the History of Medicine followed suit.

Following this move to federate, the ‘new’ branches retained internal autonomy and, having relinquished membership income, qualified for annual capitation payments from their new parent body.

The Society now brings together all those interested in the history of medicine in its widest aspects, a happy blend of historians and clinicians.

The names of the Society's past presidents can be found here.

Written by Peter Burke

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Selected published papers from the 1st National Symposium on the History of Medicine and Health in Australia, Sydney.

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Early presidents of the ASHM/ANZSHM: Professor Harold Attwood (left) and Dr Geoffrey Kenny (right).

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