Founded in 1990 as the Historical Center for the Health Sciences, the Center’s primary objective was to foster a broader understanding and deeper appreciation of the pioneering role of the University of Michigan, its alumni, and Michigan as a state in advancing knowledge of disease and promoting human health.

Howard Markel, M.D., Ph.D., the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine, became the Center’s director in 1996 and guided the Center through a transition to what today are its core interests: conducting research and collaborations that place contemporary medical dilemmas in context with past events to help inform public health and medical policies, while continuing its commitment as consulting historians to the University of Michigan Medical School, and fostering appreciation of the medical humanities among its medical students. Accordingly, the Center was renamed the Center for the History of Medicine in 2002.

Since 1998, the Center has been housed in the historic Simpson Memorial Institute for Medical Research. A 1927 gift to the University by Catherine Macdonald Simpson as a memorial to her husband, Detroit industrialist Thomas Henry Simpson who died of pernicious anemia, the building was designed by Albert Kahn.