Over 5 centuries the RCP library and archives have collected material to support physicians' learning and, more recently, to interpret older materials. Both published and unpublished materials provide a fascinating record of the RCP’s activities and an insight into the world of medicine.
From the founding charter to 20th-century reports on the effects of smoking, there is a wealth of material on the RCP's role in relation to contemporary medical advances. The RCP was founded so that physicians could be formally licensed to practise and those who were not qualified could be exposed and punished. There are many archive records defining the RCP’s changing role in setting standards in medical practice. This is also reflected in the publications the RCP has produced, which form part of the library college collection.
RCP members have always collected manuscripts and papers on a wide range of medical and non-medical topics. As a result the archives contain an eclectic range of 14th- to 19th-century manuscripts, including works on:
Personal papers of past fellows from the 16th century to the 20th century provide glimpses into the personal lives and social concerns of many distinguished physicians.
The catalogue for the archives, manuscripts and personal papers is available via Discovery, hosted by the National Archives website, where you can search the RCP archives, along with the collections of many other organisations.
The RCP has had a library since its foundation in 1518. It was set up by William Harvey and we still have a few precious items which survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. Since then the library has grown continually, and incorporates a wide range of subjects not restricted to medical works. This reflects the collecting habits of earlier RCP fellows and the need to provide the broad educational base considered suitable for physicians:
The library holds a number of closed collections illustrating the development of specific specalities:
The RCP has a large collection of rare books and pamphlets dating from the 19th century. Many of these books have been digitised and made available online as part of the UK Medical Heritage Library (UK-MHL).
As well as medicine, the digitised books, dating from 1780 to 1914, cover:
Included are works by fellows of the RCP, RCP lectures and highlights from collections such as the Evan Bedford cardiology collection.
More recent materials reflect the changing nature of medicine and the role of the RCP. They illustrate socio-medical milestones such as:
Throughout, the development of both new and established specialties is reflected in the collection. The relationship of medicine with other disciplines such as philosophy, art and literature is also well represented. Public health and health policy are both major areas of interest. Our collections continue to reflect the evolving history of medicine in the 21st century.
We have an outstanding book collection of individual and collective biographies from the recently published to the long out of print. Our serials include the Journal of Medical Biography and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Biographies can also be found in our complete runs of The Lancet and The BMJ.
Unique obituaries of all physicians linked to the RCP from 1518 to the 1820s, and all RCP fellows to this day, are publically available in Munk's Roll: the lives of the fellows.
Materials are viewed in our Library Reading Room, which is open to the public for browsing and research appointments.
Please see our library donations policy or contact us for more details about making archive donations.