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A tireless champion

April 14, 2011

Celebrating Vivian Nutton – by Diana E Manuel

Professor Vivian Nutton is a classicist of considerable renown, both at home and abroad. He enjoys a reputation as a first-class scholar and, notably, as an authority on the Greek physician Galen of Pergamon, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). Galen (129–216/7 CE) is the most prolific medical writer whose works survive from the ancient world.

Nutton has, over the years, received honours in recognition of his work from a number of prestigious institutions, spanning in North America and Europe as well as in his own country. He is particularly proud of his Médaille d’honneur from the University of Tours in 1987 for his work on Renaissance medicine. In 2008 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy.

Having graduated in classics and taught in Cambridge (where he was a Research Fellow and is now an Honorary Fellow of his alma mater, Selwyn College), he moved to London in 1977. Here he joined the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, which eventually became the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine; he thus became a member of the sub- department – later a full academic department – within University College London. He was promoted to Professor in 1993, thus joining two illustrious historians of medicine: Professor William Bynum, who did so much to create the international reputation of the department during his long period of leadership, and Professor Roy Porter.

Alongside Bynum and Porter, Nutton worked tirelessly to promote and enhance the wide scope and international status of history of medicine as a discipline. He, like them, has always been a very keen and highly esteemed teacher of the subject. He is regularly invited to contribute to a wide range of conferences; being an excellent linguist, he sometimes delivers his contributions in the language of the country. In addition to his undergraduate teaching, Nutton has been highly valued as a postgraduate research mentor and supervisor. Indeed, he has quite a cadre of past students who occupy prestigious teaching posts in history of medicine both at home and abroad.

Yet alongside his academic career, Nutton has also maintained a vigorous non-academic strand to his activities. His family has always been central to his life, and in his earlier days he magnificently looked after his three children when his wife, Christine, an important professional helpmate, was coping with a stubborn and debilitating back problem. Alongside this, he has always been an enthusiastic and regular member of a number of singing groups and choirs. He is also an accomplished campanologist. The department currently displays a beautiful picture of Nutton in a bell tower with three others – all men alas! – all smiling and wearing colourful jumpers, holding their ropes and ready to pull.

Dr Diana E Manuel is Honorary Senior Research Associate and Fellow of UCL.

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