C Jones
Journal Issue: 
Volume 48: Issue 2: 2018




This paper reappraises the role of medical clubs and societies in the production and consumption of knowledge in 18th-century Scotland and the wider North Atlantic world. It focuses on the Edinburgh Medical Society, founded in 1731 by Alexander Monro primus; and on the student Medical Society, founded in 1734 and constituted in 1737 as the Medical Society of Edinburgh, ultimately becoming the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh in 1778. The paper examines how Monro, as editor of the transactions of the Edinburgh Medical Society, sought to adapt medical learning to a world of polite sociability; and how that world came under pressure in the student Medical Society, where prevailing orthodoxies, such as the system of Herman Boerhaave and, later, William Cullen, were challenged. In the febrile atmosphere of the 1790s, William Thomson accused the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh of promoting visionary theories and abandoning the proper experimental method in medical science. Yet with its overarching commitment to the sceptical and empirical principles laid down by the Royal Society of London (founded in 1660), the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh provided a model for the establishment of similar clubs and societies on both sides of the Atlantic.