Roy Porter

Last updated

Roy Sydney Porter, FBA (31 December 1946 – 3 March 2002) was a British historian known for his important work on the history of medicine. He retired in 2001 from the director of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine at University College, London (UCL).

Fellow of the British Academy award granted by the British Academy to leading academics for their distinction in the humanities and social sciences

Fellowship of the British Academy (FBA) is an award granted by the British Academy to leading academics for their distinction in the humanities and social sciences. There are three kinds of fellowship:

  1. Fellows, for scholars resident in the United Kingdom
  2. Corresponding Fellows, for scholars not resident in the UK
  3. Honorary Fellows, an honorary academic title
History of medicine aspect of history

The history of medicine shows how societies have changed in their approach to illness and disease from ancient times to the present. Early medical traditions include those of Babylon, China, Egypt and India. The Indians introduced the concepts of medical diagnosis, prognosis, and advanced medical ethics. The Hippocratic Oath was written in ancient Greece in the 5th century BCE, and is a direct inspiration for oaths of office that physicians swear upon entry into the profession today. In the Middle Ages, surgical practices inherited from the ancient masters were improved and then systematized in Rogerius's The Practice of Surgery. Universities began systematic training of physicians around 1220 CE in Italy.



Porter grew up in South London and attended Wilson's School in Camberwell. [1] He won a scholarship to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he studied under J. H. Plumb. [2] His contemporaries included Simon Schama and Andrew Wheatcroft. He achieved a double starred first [1] [3] and became a junior Fellow in 1968, studying under Robert M. Young and lecturing on the British Enlightenment. [2] In 1972, he moved to Churchill College as the Director of Studies in History, later becoming Dean in 1977. [1] [3] He received his doctorate in 1974, publishing a thesis on the history of geology as a scientific discipline. [4] He was then appointed to the post of Assistant Lecturer in European History at Cambridge University and promoted to Lecturer in European History in 1977. [4]

South London Boroughs of South London in England

South London is the southern part of London, England. Situated south of the River Thames, it includes the historic districts of Southwark, Lambeth, Bankside and Greenwich.

Wilson's School is a boys' grammar school with academy status in Wallington in the London Borough of Sutton, England. The school educates approximately 1,100 pupils, with entry by academic selection based on performance in an entrance examination. 180 boys are expected to be admitted per year. GCSE and A-Level results consistently place it within the top ten schools in the country.

Camberwell area of south London, England, in the London Borough of Southwark and the London Borough of Lambeth

Camberwell is a district of South London, England, within the London Borough of Southwark. It is located 2.7 miles (4.3 km) southeast of Charing Cross. The name Camberwell was first applied to the Parish of St Giles, Camberwell, which included the village of Camberwell, and the hamlets of Peckham, Dulwich, Nunhead, and part of Herne Hill. Until 1889, it was part of the county of Surrey. In 1900 the original parish became the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell.

In 1979 he joined the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine (part of the University College, London) as a lecturer. In 1993 he became Professor of Social History at the Institute. [1] [3] He briefly served as its Director. In 2000, Porter published The Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World. He retired in September 2001, moving to St Leonards-on-Sea, where he wanted to learn to play the saxophone, cultivate his allotment and engage in some travelling. [2] [4] [5] He died of a heart attack five months later, while cycling. [5] His memorial service was on 22 April 2002 at St Pancras Parish Church. [5]

St Leonards-on-Sea town in East Sussex, England

St Leonards-on-Sea is a town and seaside resort in the Borough of Hastings in East Sussex, England. It has been part of the borough since the late 19th century and lies to the west of central Hastings. The original part of the settlement was laid out in the early 19th century as a new town: a place of elegant houses designed for the well-off; it also included a central public garden, a hotel, an archery, assembly rooms and a church. Today's St Leonards has extended well beyond that original design, although the original town still exists within it.

He was married five times, firstly to Sue Limb (1970), then Jacqueline Rainfray (1983), then Dorothy Watkins (1987), then Hannah Augstein, and finally his wife at the time of his death, Natsu Hattori. [2] [3] [6]

Sue Limb is a British writer and broadcaster. She studied Elizabethan lyric poetry at Newnham College, Cambridge and then trained in education. She lives on an organic farm near Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire.

He was known for the fact that he needed very little sleep. [1] [3] [5]

Media appearances

Porter made many television and radio appearances. He was an original presenter of BBC Radio 3's Night Waves , [1] a programme on which he was scheduled to appear, discussing doctors in literature, at the point of his death. [2]

BBC Radio 3 British national radio station

BBC Radio 3 is a British radio station operated by the BBC. Its output centres on classical music and opera, but jazz, world music, drama, culture and the arts also feature. The station describes itself as 'the world's most significant commissioner of new music', and through its New Generation Artists scheme promotes young musicians of all nationalities. The station broadcasts the BBC Proms concerts, live and in full, each summer in addition to performances by the BBC Orchestras and Singers. There are regular productions of both classic plays and newly commissioned drama.

Night Waves was a radio programme broadcast on BBC Radio 3. The BBC described it as "Radio 3's flagship arts and ideas programme".

He also spoke at a large variety of events, and was known for his oratory talents. [4]


He was awarded the Leo Gershoy Award of the American Historical Association in 1988. [7]

Porter was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1994, and was made an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. [3] [4] [5]

A plaque for the memory of Porter was unveiled by the Mayor of Lewisham in a ceremony that took place on Thursday 5 June at 13 Camplin Street, New Cross Gate, London. [8]


Starting with the publishing of his PhD thesis, as The Making of Geology in 1977, Porter wrote or edited over 100 books, [3] [4] an academic output that was, and is, considered remarkable. [2] [3] He is so prolific that the poet Michael Hofmann has called him "a one-man book factory." [9] He is particularly notable for his work in the history of medicine, in pioneering an approach that focuses on patients rather than doctors. [1] [3] Despite his recognition in the history of medicine, he is quoted as saying, "I'm not really a medical historian. I'm a social historian and an 18th century man". [5] In addition to the history of medicine and other sciences, he specialised in the social history of 18th-century Britain and the Enlightenment. He also wrote and lectured on the history of London. With G. E. Berrios, Porter published A History of Clinical Psychiatry (1985) and co-edited the international journal History of Psychiatry (1989). [10] He also edited the journal History of Science for many years. [1] [5]

In 2007 Roberta Bivins and John V. Pickstone edited Medicine, Madness and Social History: Essays in Honour of Roy Porter (Palgrave Macmillan). Several of the essays address Porter's work directly, and William F. Bynum appends a biographical sketch.

On the history of science

On the history of medicine

On the Enlightenment

On social history

History Today Articles


As editor

Books about Roy Porter

Related Research Articles

Scottish Enlightenment intellectual movement in 18th-19th century Scotland

The Scottish Enlightenment was the period in 18th- and early-19th-century Scotland characterised by an outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments. By the eighteenth century, Scotland had a network of parish schools in the Lowlands and four universities. The Enlightenment culture was based on close readings of new books, and intense discussions took place daily at such intellectual gathering places in Edinburgh as The Select Society and, later, The Poker Club, as well as within Scotland's ancient universities.

William Cullen Scottish physician, chemist and agriculturalist

William Cullen FRS FRSE FRCPE FPSG was a Scottish physician, chemist and agriculturalist, and one of the most important professors at the Edinburgh Medical School, during its heyday as the leading centre of medical education in the English-speaking world.

Robert G. W. Anderson British chemist

Robert Geoffrey William Anderson, is a British museum curator and historian of chemistry. He has wide-ranging interests in the history of chemistry, including the history of scientific instrumentation, the work of Joseph Black and Joseph Priestley, the history of museums, and the involvement of the working class in material culture. He has been Director of the Science Museum, London, the National Museums of Scotland, and the British Museum, London. He became interim president and CEO of the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia in 2016, and was named its ongoing president and CEO on 11 January 2017.

George Cheyne (physician) British doctor

George Cheyne, M.D. R.C. E.d. R.S.S. (1672–1743), was a pioneering physician, early proto-psychiatrist, philosopher and mathematician.

Jonathan Charles Douglas Clark is a British historian of both British and American history. He received his undergraduate degree at Downing College, Cambridge. Having previously held posts at Peterhouse, Cambridge and All Souls College, Oxford into 1996, he has since held the Joyce C. and Elizabeth Ann Hall Distinguished Professorship of British History at the University of Kansas.

Michael Hunter (historian) British historian

Michael Cyril William Hunter is Emeritus Professor of History in the department of history, classics and archaeology and a Fellow of Birkbeck, University of London. Hunter is interested in the culture of early modern England. He specialises in the history of science in seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century England, particularly the work of Robert Boyle. In Noel Malcolm's judgement, Hunter "has done more for Boyle studies than anyone before him ".

Simon Goldhill British classical scholar

Simon David Goldhill, FBA is Professor in Greek Literature and Culture and fellow and Director of Studies in Classics at King's College, Cambridge. He was previously Director of Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge, succeeding Mary Jacobus in October 2011. He is best known for his work on Greek Tragedy.

John Pickstone British historian

John Pickstone was a British historian of science and the Wellcome Research Professor in the Centre for the History of science, Technology and Medicine, in the Faculty of Life Sciences of the University of Manchester.

Harold John Cook is John F. Nickoll Professor of History at Brown University and was Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College, London (UCL) from 2000 to 2009, and was the Queen Wilhelmina Visiting Professor of History at Columbia University in New York during the 2007-2008 academic year.

George Rousseau American historian

Professor George Sebastian Rousseau is an American cultural historian resident in the United Kingdom.

Professor David Edgerton was educated at St John's College, Oxford and Imperial College London. After teaching the economics of science and technology and the history of science and technology at the University of Manchester, he became the founding director of the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at Imperial College, London, and Hans Rausing Professor. He has held a Major Research Fellowship (2006–2009) from the Leverhulme Trust. In 2013, he led the move of the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine to the Department of History of King's College London.

Steven Blankaart Dutch entomologist

Steven Blankaart was a Dutch physician, iatrochemist, and entomologist, who worked on the same field as Jan Swammerdam. Blankaart proved the existence of a capillary system, as had been suggested by Leonardo da Vinci, by spouting up blood vessels, though he failed to realize the true significance of his findings. He is known for his development of injection techniques for this study and for writing the first Dutch book on child medicine. Blankaart translated works of John Mayow.

Charles Maitland (1668–1748) was a Scottish surgeon who inoculated people against smallpox.

Scottish education in the eighteenth century

Scottish education in the eighteenth century concerns all forms of education, including schools, universities and informal instruction, in Scotland in the eighteenth century.

The Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine (1968–1999) was a London centre for the study and teaching of medical history. It consisted of the Wellcome Library and an Academic Unit. The former was and is a world-class library collection owned and managed by the Wellcome Trust and staffed by librarians including academic librarians who held honorary lectureships at University College London. The Academic Unit was a group of university staff appointed at University College London that conducted a program of university teaching, thesis supervision, seminars, conferences and publications.

Giovanni Antonio Tagliente

Giovanni Antonio Tagliente was a calligrapher, author, printer and publisher based in Venice during the Renaissance period.

British Society for the History of Medicine

The British Society for the History of Medicine (BSHM) is an umbrella organisation for History of medicine societies throughout the United Kingdom. It has grown from the original four affiliated societies to twenty affiliated societies in 2018. The society holds its Congress on alternate years in centres around the UK, with the Poynter Lecture being held on alternate years in London.

William F. Bynum is a British historian of medicine. For most of his career, he has worked at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London. He has frequently collaborated with Roy Porter, another famous British historian. He teaches history of medicine at UCL London.

Mikuláš Teich was a Czech-British historian of science, best known for the series of histories in national context which he co-edited with Roy Porter. He was married to the economic historian Alice Teichova.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 John Forrester, "Obituary: Professor Roy Porter", The Independent, 6 March 2002 (accessed 6 July 2015)
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 'Professor Roy Porter', The Telegraph, 5 March 2002 (accessed 14 March 2009)
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 W F Bynum, "Obituary: Roy Porter", The Guardian, 5 March 2002 (accessed 14 Mar 2009)
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Julia Sheppard, 'Obituary: Roy Porter 1946–2002', Medical History, 3 (2002)
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Hugh Freeman, 'Obituaries: Roy Porter, Formerly Medical and Social Historian', Psychiatric Bulletin, 26 (2002): 398–399
  7. "Leo Gershoy Award Recipients". American Historical Association. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  8. The Roy Porter Memorial Plaque Unveiling on the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine at UCL website
  9. New York Times . Retrieved 18 February 2018.Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. Griffiths, Joanna (9 February 2002). "Review: Madness: A Brief History by Roy Porter". The Guardian.
  12. Grob, Gerald N. (1 May 2003). "Review: Blood and Guts: A Short History of Medicine by Roy Porter". N Engl J Med. 348: 1823–1824. doi:10.1056/NEJM200305013481823.