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Roy Sydney Porter, FBA (31 December 1946 - 3 March 2002) was a British historian known for his important work on the history of medicine. He retired in 2001 from the director of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine at University College, London (UCL).
In 1979 he joined the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine (part of the University College, London) as a lecturer. In 1993 he became Professor of Social History at the Institute. He briefly served as its Director. In 2000, Porter published The Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World. He retired in September 2001, moving to St Leonards-on-Sea, where he wanted to learn to play the saxophone, cultivate his allotment and engage in some travelling. He died of a heart attack five months later, while cycling. His memorial service was on 22 April 2002 at St Pancras Parish Church.
He was married five times, firstly to Sue Limb (1970), then Jacqueline Rainfray (1983), then Dorothy Watkins (1987), then Hannah Augstein, and finally his wife at the time of his death, Natsu Hattori.
He was known for the fact that he needed very little sleep.
Porter made many television and radio appearances. He was an original presenter of BBC Radio 3's Night Waves, a programme on which he was scheduled to appear, discussing doctors in literature, at the point of his death.
He also spoke at a large variety of events, and was known for his oratory talents.
A plaque for the memory of Porter was unveiled by the Mayor of Lewisham in a ceremony that took place on Thursday 5 June at 13 Camplin Street, New Cross Gate, London.
Starting with the publishing of his PhD thesis, as The Making of Geology in 1977, Porter wrote or edited over 100 books, an academic output that was, and is, considered remarkable. He is so prolific that the poet Michael Hofmann has called him "a one-man book factory." He is particularly notable for his work in the history of medicine, in pioneering an approach that focuses on patients rather than doctors. Despite his recognition in the history of medicine, he is quoted as saying, "I'm not really a medical historian. I'm a social historian and an 18th century man". In addition to the history of medicine and other sciences, he specialised in the social history of 18th-century Britain and the Enlightenment. He also wrote and lectured on the history of London. With G. E. Berrios, Porter published A History of Clinical Psychiatry (1985) and co-edited the international journal History of Psychiatry (1989). He also edited the journal History of Science for many years.
In 2007 Roberta Bivins and John V. Pickstone edited Medicine, Madness and Social History: Essays in Honour of Roy Porter (Palgrave Macmillan). Several of the essays address Porter's work directly, and William F. Bynum appends a biographical sketch.
On the history of science
The Making of Geology: Earth Science in Britain, 1660-1815 (Cambridge and New York, 1977; reprinted 1980) (ISBN9780521215213)
The Earth Sciences: An Annotated Bibliography (New York and London, 1983) (ISBN9780824092672)