Letters to a doctor in the 1780s

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Dr Cullen letter

Letter to Dr Cullen, via cullenproject.ac.uk

This week in The Telegraph there was a great article about Dr William Cullen’s letters from, and replies to, patients asking his advice on their various maladies.

Dr William Cullen was a Scottish physician (b.1710- d.1790) who answered patients’ letters, and seems to have kept them all. He also made copies of his reply letters, using new-at-the-time copy machine technology. There are more than 5,000 letters in his collection, all of which are now available online via The Cullen Project.

It’s fascinating to see his medical advice. Some of it is still good today, such as daily exercise and not drinking to excess. Some of it is a bit horrifying by today’s standards, like the use of leeches.

These letters, which have been preserved for hundreds of years, bring me back to a topic I visit often: how paper just might be a more practical archival medium than digital. Electronic data recording methods advance and become obsolete rapidly, making data difficult to access on outmoded forms (like the floppy disc for example). Meanwhile, paper records stand the test of time for centuries.

I find it interesting that these paper letters have been digitized to make them available all over the world via the internet. But I wonder if the paper letters themselves might outlast their digital versions.

One thought on “Letters to a doctor in the 1780s

  1. Hi QV,
    I scanned docs for ILL–interlibrary loan for 9 years. The old stuff was in way better shape than the new 20th century stuff.
    Scanning is just scanning…there is no quality of paper, image or illustration depth.
    My biggest fear is that the next Gen will not be able to read any of these docs in whatever form especially cursive.

    profs would order materials for profs on microopaque..mini microforms…we didnt own the reader..imagine floppy discs today,or z8 track tspe, or 16mm film or even 8 mm home movies!

    PS : My name is Cullen ( no need to print my name. not our relative)

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