Historical research materials

For over five centuries the library and archives have collected and commissioned material to support physicians' learning and document our history, providing a fascinating insight into the world of medicine. These collections are available for members to use for research and to support their studies. 

Our collections

The RCP has had a library since its foundation in 1518. RCP fellows, including William Harvey have donated books over the centuries, so the library reflects the collecting habits of past physicians and the broad education they were expected to have. The subject include medicine, science, law, architecture, travel, cookery, and medical advice for the public.  

As a result, the archives contain an eclectic range of 14th to 19th century manuscripts including works on astrology, alchemy, religion, travel, medical theory and medical practice. 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 library and archives also contain an ongoing record of the RCP’s activities, from the founding charter of 1518, via 20th century reports on the effects of smoking, to the present. The RCP's role in relation to contemporary medical advances is made clear, with records demonstrating the RCP’s changing role in setting standards in medical practice.

Accessing our collections

More recent library items are available to borrow, older library items are available for reference use and materials published before 1850 can be accessed via our research services.

Online access to the Oxford Dictional of Nation Biography is available to members using the same RCP Athens login as the clinical e-resources.

Over 4,000 RCP library books dating from 1780 to 1914 are available online in full, free to download as part of the UK Medical Heritage Library

Fellows can access institutional archives ten years after they are produced. They are available to the wider membership and the public for study after twenty years. All archives are accessible via our research services.

Donations

Offers of donations to our collection are always appreciated but be aware that restrictions on space and other resources mean that only some items can be accepted. See the library donation form for more information.

Privacy

The library and archive catalogues and other collection management documents may contain information about living persons, in relation to collection items. The RCP also keeps records on research visitors, to meet access and security requirements.