About this event

  • Date and time Wed 26 May 2021 from 5:30pm to 9:30pm
  • Location Royal Society of Medicine
  • Organised by History of Medicine Society

These two structured talks and the following discussion session, on the development of physiological understanding of extreme climates and the concomitant development of medical provisions and services for explorers are in the Society’s best tradition.

If you would like to attend the live stream version of this event, please book your place here

Both speakers are internationally renowned medical historians and will emphasise the importance of considering present knowledge and practice within a broader historical framework; and underline that the past informs the present and the future.

Learning objectives include:

  • Know how medical and scientific research work, influenced by military concerns and the space race, increased understanding of survival in hot, cold and low-oxygen environments.
  • Learn how physiologists accompanied and studied polar explorers, desert nomads, and mountaineers
  • Document how a global network of pioneers changed knowledge about the human body, and human history.
  • Understand the nature of pharmacological provision for explorers from the late C19th to the mid C20th
  • Recognise the pivotal role of Henry Wellcome and Burroughs, Wellcome & Co in developing tropical medicines and research facilities

The History of Medicine Society was founded in 1912 by Sir William Osler, its first President. These talks continue to reveal the importance of learning from the lessons of the past to apply to the present and future. The Society reaches out, inter alia, to clinicians of every specialty (including students), medical scientists, health care professionals, and other interested professionals and members of the general public (e.g. journalists and teachers).

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Standard pricing available until 25 May 2021.


RSM Member
Day 1
£25.00 Meeting
£48.00 Optional dinner

Non - Member

Non - Member
Day 1
£44.00 Meeting
£48.00 Optional dinner
Day 1
£44.00 Meeting
£48.00 Optional dinner

Key speakers

Professor Tilli Tansey

Emeritus Professor of Medical History and Pharmacology, William Harvey Research Institute, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London

Speaker's biography

Professor Tansey is Emeritus Professor of History of Medicine and Pharmacology at the William Harvey Research Institute of Barts & The London School of Medicine, and Honorary Professor in Neuroscience of Physiology and Pharmacology at UCL. With a PhD in neuroscience she worked for some years in medical research, before taking a second PhD in medical history. She was appointed to the academic staff of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in 1990 specialising in the history of modern medical sciences, especially physiology and pharmacology, and developing the famous ‘Witness Seminar’ approach to modern medicine, of which she co-edited over 70 volumes.


She was awarded an OBE in January 2015 ‘for services to research in the medical sciences and to the public understanding of science’. She is, inter alia, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and an Honorary Fellow of the RSM.

Dr Vanessa Heggie

University Research Fellow, University of Birmingham

Speaker's biography

Dr Heggie is an internationally respected medical historian and a Senior Lecturer in the History of Medicine and Science at the University of Birmingham. She initially studied Genetics as an undergraduate before switching to an MSc and PhD in the history and philosophy of science and has worked at the University of Manchester and the University of Cambridge as well as holding a Visiting Fellowship at the University of Sydney.


Her research interests lie in the history of medicine and the biomedical sciences in the 19th and 20th centuries, spanning a broad range of topics from nutrition and nursing to exercise and eugenics. Her first book Manchester University Press, 2011, was A History of British Sports Medicine, and her second book Chicago University Press, 2019 was Higher and Colder: A History of Extreme Physiology and Exploration. She has also written for public audiences, including a long running blog (2012-17) for the Guardian’s science section.


View programme

Registration, tea and coffee
History of Medicine annual general meeting

Section members only

Medicine at extremes 

Introduction by the President 

Professor Tilli Tansey, President, History of Medicine Society, Royal Society of Medicine

Exploration physiology: a history of polar, desert, and altitude

Dr Vanessa Heggie, University Research Fellow, University of Birmingham

Presidential address 2020-2021 - Medicines for explorers: Henry Wellcome’s medicine chests 

Professor Tilli Tansey, Emeritus Professor of Medical History and Pharmacology, William Harvey Research Institute, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London

Panel discussion
Close of meeting 

For those who have pre-booked


Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole St, Marylebone, London, W1G 0AE, United Kingdom

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