Collectors of Natural Knowledge: The Edinburgh Medical Society and the Associational Culture of Scotland and the North Atlantic World in the Eighteenth Century

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Abstract

This paper reappraises the role of medical clubs and societies in the production and consumption of knowledge in eighteenth-century Scotland and the wider North Atlantic world. It focuses on the Edinburgh Medical Society, founded in 1731 by Alexander Monro primus; and on the student Medical Society, founded in 1734 and constituted in 1737 as the Medical Society of Edinburgh, ultimately becoming the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh in 1778. The paper examines how Monro, as editor of the transactions of the Edinburgh Medical Society, Medical Essays and Observations (1733-44), sought to adapt medical learning to a world of polite sociability; and how that world came under pressure in the student Medical Society, where prevailing orthodoxies, such as the system of Herman Boerhaave and, later, of William Cullen, were challenged. In the febrile atmosphere of the 1790s, William Thomson accused the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh of promoting visionary theories and abandoning the proper experimental method in medical science. Yet with its overarching commitment to the sceptical and empirical principles laid down by the Royal Society of London (founded in 1660), the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh provided a model for the establishment of similar clubs and societies on both sides of the Atlantic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-164
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
Volume48
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018

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eighteenth century
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Keywords

  • Edinburgh Medical Society
  • knowledge
  • Monro primus
  • politeness
  • Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh
  • sociability

Cite this

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title = "Collectors of Natural Knowledge: The Edinburgh Medical Society and the Associational Culture of Scotland and the North Atlantic World in the Eighteenth Century",
abstract = "This paper reappraises the role of medical clubs and societies in the production and consumption of knowledge in eighteenth-century Scotland and the wider North Atlantic world. It focuses on the Edinburgh Medical Society, founded in 1731 by Alexander Monro primus; and on the student Medical Society, founded in 1734 and constituted in 1737 as the Medical Society of Edinburgh, ultimately becoming the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh in 1778. The paper examines how Monro, as editor of the transactions of the Edinburgh Medical Society, Medical Essays and Observations (1733-44), sought to adapt medical learning to a world of polite sociability; and how that world came under pressure in the student Medical Society, where prevailing orthodoxies, such as the system of Herman Boerhaave and, later, of William Cullen, were challenged. In the febrile atmosphere of the 1790s, William Thomson accused the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh of promoting visionary theories and abandoning the proper experimental method in medical science. Yet with its overarching commitment to the sceptical and empirical principles laid down by the Royal Society of London (founded in 1660), the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh provided a model for the establishment of similar clubs and societies on both sides of the Atlantic.",
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note = "My thanks to Iain Milne, Head of Heritage and Sibbald Librarian at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Estela Dukan, Assistant Librarian at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and Nicholas Phillipson, Honorary Research Fellow in History at the University of Edinburgh, for helpful advice. An early version of this paper was presented at the first workshop of the AHRC-funded ‘Institutions of Literature, 1700-1900’ research network (on ‘Institutions as Curators’, Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, 31 March – 1 April 2017); I am grateful to workshop participants for their questions and comments.",
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