The College collaborated with the University of Glasgow on this project to digitise, transcribe and make available online the consultation letters of Dr William Cullen, which was funded by a major AHRC research grant award.


William Cullen (1710-1790) was the most influential medical lecturer of his generation, who drew thousands of students to the Edinburgh Medical School. As the pre-eminent Scottish medical figure of his day, Cullen’s opinion was in high demand and people wrote to him from around the world requesting his advice on treatments.

Unusually, Cullen retained all his letters and responses, which together form a remarkable collection of over five thousand items, all held here in the College archives.

Cullen’s correspondence covers a range of social classes and geographical locations.  A Scottish plantation owner writes from Charleston asking how to cure an American slave’s epilepsy, there are enquiries about a Russian Princess with gout and a patient who became ill after eating a surfeit of cucumbers. Famous patients include the dying Samuel Johnson - James Boswell writes asking asks Cullen for advice.

While Cullen’s advice as a respected practitioner reveals his modern-sounding concerns with the health benefits of diet, exercise and travel the letters also detail a range of more unusual treatments, including cold bathing, purges, vomits, issues, flesh brushing and leeches for conditions that range from fevers and colics to horrors, scabs, teethings and deleriums.


This online digital edition of the medical correspondence of William Cullen

  • Provides full transcriptions of digitised material
  • Allows for full-text searching, including by disease, condition, treatment, location and date
  • Contains name authority files, giving contextual information about letter writers, recipients and subjects
  • Provides insight into social relations, medical treatments and patient experiences


Click here to search the online digitised letters of William Cullen

Click here to read a blog post about this project