The Cullen Project

The Cullen Project is a publicly accessible, online scholarly edition of the medical consultation letters of Dr. William Cullen (1710-1790) at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE). William Cullen began his career as a medical lecturer and pioneer teacher of Chemistry at Glasgow University. He rose to international fame as the leading figure in Edinburgh University medical school and served as president of the RCPE. He was appointed the King's Physician in Scotland and became the most influential medical lecturer of his generation. Alongside his close associates David Hume and Adam Smith, Cullen played an important role in the Scottish Enlightenment.

Cullen's private consultations survive as a remarkable archive of several thousand letters. These include requests for advice from patients or close family members and referrals from attendant physicians and surgeons. Cullen retained his responses, initially as written transcripts then, from 1781, as duplicates made on a "mechanical copier" invented by James Watt. These exchanges with correspondents throughout Britain and abroad include some sustained autobiographical "illness narratives" and intra-physician exchanges. They provide a rich resource for gaining an historical insight into the experience of illness and the effort to cure disease.

The collection consists in several thousand letters. In August 2015, over 20.000 pages had been digitised, with a total of over 5.600 documents online and almost 3.800 documents transcribed.

Basic search is possible, as well as extensive browsing options: by all tagged content, medicines, symptoms, conditions, treatments, preparations, actions, or body parts. Letters can be shown as facsimile (with zoom options), normalized text, diplomatic text, or XML. They are accompanied by detailed metadata.

The project is a collaboration between the School of Critical Studies at the University of Glasgow and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE). It is funded by an AHRC research grant award.

Last update

Thursday, 12 November 2015 - 3:53pm
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