A Multitude of Minutes

I spent the entire day on Friday going through minutes from RCPE meetings from the mid to late 18th century – all the years Cullen was a Fellow of the RCPE. There were several meetings each year and some of the entries are pages and pages long while some are just part of a page. All the minutes were typed up sometime in the early/mid 20th century, so instead of an eyeball straining day of paleography it was just skimming page after page of ink so faded it has turned purple.

Transcribed Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh meeting minutes from the 18th century

I really started to get the hang of it by a couple hours in and am thinking about going back over the years that Cullen was president, which I looked over last week but I feel like I could really gain a lot by just spending a couple more hours with. I know that this is a trap that researchers fall into, having the feeling if I could just spend a little more time with it… and just keep digging a little bit deeper each time and get further and further into the minutia, but I think in this instance I’m going to go for it. I have really been excited about simply having time to give to each project I’m working on. I’ve been thinking about my academic research and comparing it to the research I did as a consultant, and remembering how as a consultant there was no time to really get anything as well done as I’d like, and the pressure to just keep zooming through the material to get something typed up for peer review and submittal to the client. Ug. That’s really not my style. So I’m going to go back over the minutes from Cullen’s presidency. And I’m very happy about it.

Going through Cullen’s entire career in the RCPE in just a couple days was a bit of a strange experience, when I think back on it. As I went through the minutes and got on towards the end of the 1780s, knowing that he died in 1790, I started to worry about his health and hope that he was takinging care of himself. Then in 1786 he stopped showing up for meetings except for elections once a year, and on 4 May 1790 I felt a little bit empty when I read “James Hamilton fills vacancy as counsellor in place of dceceast Dr. Cullen.” Wow, I feel a little bit sad right now as I type this out…

The RCPE was a major aspect of Cullen’s life. He was heavily involved in creating policy and growing the RCPE into what we know it as today. Not only was he an energetic and driven member of the RCPE, he was simply present when the foundations of the RCPE were being laid, literally and figuratively as he was president when foundation stone of the new hall on George Street was set in place. As an active participant in the happenings of the RCPE it is not surprising that he was so influential. I’m not suggesting that Cullen wasn’t extraordinary in many ways, just that part of what made him extraordinary, I think, was the era he was living in and the things he got himself involved in. And I like that about him. He lived in his time and created a space for himself to be an extraordinary individual. He is such a great example, to me, of how a person can make an impact on the world.



  1. An interesting question is to what extent if any did the 20th century typographic author amend the 18th century manuscripts in producing the new ‘clean’ version of the minutes? Are the originals available so that you can see whether it is a verbatim transcription or whether they were ‘cleaned’ as part of the transcription?

  2. The originals are available, but my guess is the transcription is pretty true to the original. Spelling, capitalization and punctuation all seem pretty consistent with 18th C norms. I haven’t looked into it, though – for my purposes the transcriptions are fine.

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