RCP Museum Late: Tobacco (Thurs 1 Aug, 5.30-8pm), Royal College of Physicians


On the first Thursday of the month the Royal College of Physicians Museum opens its doors for a series of free Museum Late events, giving visitors the chance to experience more than 500 years of history at England’s oldest medical college.

The programme for Thursday 1 August is about the social history of tobacco and smoking. Join Life of Breath‘s Professor Andrew Russell for a talk on the nature of tobacco and the implications of its journey across the world. The evening will also be an opportunity to view the RCP’s tobacco and smoking related archival collections and a tour from the curatorial team. Just book here for the whole evening and come along to as many as you like!

  • 5.30-6.45pm: RCP archives on display
  • 6.00-6.40pm: Catch Your Breath exhibition tour
  • 6.45-7.45pm: Tobacco: Shape Shifting Substance from South America talk and Q&A

Tobacco: Shape Shifting Substance from South America

What have been some of the relationships between tobacco and people, past and present and worldwide?  What happens when these different relationships are brought into dialogue with one another?

From its evolutionary origins and ‘deep history’ among indigenous communities in South America, tobacco has spread rapidly worldwide during the past 500 years. This has been fuelled by its addictive properties, a murky colonial history and its contemporary exploitation by the forces of corporate and state-sponsored capitalism.

Coinciding with the publication of his book Anthropology of Tobacco: Ethnographic Adventures in Non-Human Worlds (Routledge 2019), Andrew Russell will present tobacco as a plant with agency and the ability to assume different shapes according to its diverse political, economic and human contexts. How has an apparently humble plant managed to achieve such world domination and how successful are tobacco control efforts to counter it?  What are the latest manifestations of its shape-shifting abilities?  What needs to happen if we are ever to put this particular genie back in its lamp and consider seriously ‘a world without tobacco’?