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RCP Lates August – Tobacco

Thu 1 Aug 2019 @ 5:00 PM - 8:00 PM


UPDATE: the venue for Andrew Russell’s talk Tobacco: Shape Shifting Substance from South America at 6.45pm has been moved from the Reading Room (2nd floor) to Dorchester Library, which is located on the 1st floor next to the Catch Your Breath exhibition. Please do feel free to ask a member of staff for directions or further information on your arrival.


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.

During Catch Your Breath you can join a special curator-led tour and join in themed activities led by members of the Life of Breath project team and our collaborators.

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, based on his newly released open access book The Anthropology of Tobacco: Ethnographic Adventures in Non-Human Worlds (Routledge 2019).

The evening will also be an opportunity to encounter breath-taking documents from the RCP’s tobacco and smoking related archival collections, including drawings, responses from the public to the ground-breaking 1962 Smoking and Health report, and insights into the use of tobacco from the 16th century onwards. A member of the RCP curatorial team that worked on Catch Your Breath in its development from Durham to London will host a tour of the exhibition at 6pm.

There’s no need to book for these sessions individually. 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’?


About Andrew

Andrew Russell is a Professor of Medical Anthropology at Durham University and a collaborator on the Wellcome Trust funded Life of Breath project. He is also CoI of an Academy of Medical Sciences’ Global Challenges Research Fund network looking at current and alternative livelihoods among bidi workers in Tamil Nadu, India.  An active member of Durham’s Anthropology of Health Research Group and degree tutor for the MSc in Medical Anthropology, he is interested in interdisciplinary and participatory research approaches to public health issues, particularly tobacco control, in which he has conducted research at local, regional, national and international levels.  He works collaboratively with Fresh Smoke Free North East, the UK’s first tobacco control office, and with the Framework Convention Alliance, the civil society consortium supporting the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.


Other Catch Your Breath themed evenings will be held on:


Royal College of Physicians
+44 (0)20 3075 1649


Royal College of Physicians
11 St Andrews Place, Regent's Park
London, NW1 4LE United Kingdom
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+44 (0)20 3075 1649