The year 2018 marks a significant landmark for the Royal College of Physicians. The organisation was founded on 23 September 1518, and we’re taking the opportunity in our 500th birthday year to look back on the history of medicine as well as to the future of healthcare.
Our new RCP500 website celebrates 500 years of RCP and medical history. On the library, archive and museum blog you’ll find new stories about the history of the RCP throughout 2018. The RCP timeline on the site highlights the important events from 1518 to 2018. The story of the RCP is complemented by a wealth of images of the unique and rare items that make up the historical collections, many of which are published here for the first time.
Our first exhibition of the year was Ceaseless motion: William Harvey’s experiments in circulation, in which the RCP’s most famous fellow took centre stage. William Harvey (1578–1657) discovered the circulation of blood around the body, pumped by the heart and encouraged his fellow physicians ‘to search and study out the secrets of nature by way of experiment’.
After the summer break we launch our second 2018 exhibition, 'This vexed question': 500 years of women in medicine. It focuses on 500 years of women in medicine through the RCP’s library, archive and museum collections. From early women healers and herbalists to the admittance of the first female LRCP in 1909, there is a long history of tension between formal, regulated medical practice and women healers. Drawing on the RCP collections, it is possible to explore the interaction of the RCP with women (as apothecaries, physicians, as patrons and artists) as it evolved over many centuries. The exhibition runs from 19 September 2018 to Friday 18 January 2019.
Our ‘Curator’s curiosities’ heritage trail highlights key objects displayed around the RCP building, as well as exhibiting an object of the month chosen by our library, archive and museum staff. Look out for the changing display in the Treasures Room.
There are also new exhibits to see around the museum. On the lower ground floor outside the Treasures Room you can now view the Keiskamma Tapestry. This tapestry was commissioned by the RCP in honour of our birthday from the Keiskamma Trust. The trust is a community-based charity organisation in rural South Africa which aims to tackle poverty and disease through healthcare and creative programmes. The tapestry was made by women artists whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS and shows people and buildings from RCP history. In the Lasdun Hall, we’ve displayed a loan from a private lender, Jamie Borwick, 5th Baron Borwick, which will be displayed until Easter. This satirical painting by Johann Zoffany shows a scene from an 18th-century play mocking the medical profession, and the College of Physicians in particular.
Throughout the year, the RCP museum is open late on the first Thursday of every month (except for August). Come and see our exhibitions and permanent displays until 8pm on late opening evenings. For full visitor and accessibility information including any closure dates, please check our visiting page and our museum page.
A host of evening events have been happening too. A series of lectures looks at the five centuries of the college, and we turn our thoughts to the garden with a series on medicinal plants. Our popular children's ‘plague and potions’ workshop returns in May, and there was something quite different with a life drawing class in late February.
You can find all RCP500 events and exhibitions listed on the RCP500 website.
Katie Birkwood, rare books and special collections librarian
Join our 500th anniversary celebrations on Twitter: #RCP500.