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Parkinson of the disease
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Parkinson of the disease

Title page of An essay on the shaking palsyAn essay on the shaking palsyThis exhibition was originally created to mark the 200th anniversary of James Parkinson’s characterisation of a hitherto little known disorder of shaking, posture and altered gait. The exhibition was opened by Steve Ford, the CEO of the charity, Parkinson’s UK.

James Parkinson (1755-1824) was a London apothecary-surgeon and his audacious conceptualisation in An essay on the shaking palsy (1817) was the occasion for the exhibition to chart earlier understandings of different forms of shaking and palsy, and to re-assess the Essay’s reception, influence and importance.

When the Essay appeared, Parkinson was nearing retirement from his Hoxton apothecary’s shop. He had become a highly accomplished and versatile writer, and had published on gout, public health, madhouses, medical education, children’s stories and fossils. He was one of the founders of the Geological Society of London, and was also known for his inspired political pamphleteering of the 1790s, penned under the thinly disguised pseudonym of ‘Old Hubert’.

This online exhibition locates James Parkinson as a clinician, political activist and collector and classifier of fossils. Although he was born and brought up in a Nonconformist area of east London, he became and remained a keen member of the Church of England, who sought to reconcile new findings in medicine and natural history with Christian frameworks of thought. All his life his sympathies lay with the poor and down-trodden, and with attempts to hear their voices and improve their lives. This online exhibition traces the naming and framing of the ‘shaking palsy’, now known as Parkinson’s disease, and the shifting understandings of its clinical manifestations, causes, treatment, and existential impact.

The curators would like to thank the Bibliothèque interuniversitaire de santé (Paris), the British Museum, Cambridge University Library, the LSE Library, the Natural History Museum, the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the Royal Society of Medicine, Jonathan Taylor and Granta Books, and the Wellcome Library for their generosity in lending objects for the original exhibition and/or making available reproductions of items in their collections. Unless stated otherwise, all items in this exhibition are from the Foyle Special Collections Library, King’s College London.

Exhibition curators: Brandon High and Brian Hurwitz

Please note: this exhibition originally ran from 11 October to 16 December 2017 in the Weston Room of the Maughan Library, King’s College London and is now available to view as an online exhibition only.

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