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History of the Pathological Society

In 2006, as part of the Societies Centenary Celebrations, a book 'Understanding Disease: A centenary celebration of the Pathological Society' was published. The following is the Introduction to that work with links to PDFs of the Chapters.

'The Centenary of an organisation such as the Pathological Society should not pass without being appropriately marked. It is in an effort to do this that we have collected together a series of Chapters that cover diverse aspects of the Societies history and the history of pathology. We have also included the thoughts and reminiscences of current and past Members. We have endeavoured to cover the major events and themes of the Society and hope that there is something of interest for all Members. We thank all that contributed the articles to be found in this work and all that have worked so hard to ensure that this project came to a timely fruition. The Societies Administrative staff, Roselyn Pitts and Julie Johnstone, played a huge part in gathering key information and helping with untold numbers of questions about Minutes, Meetings and the paraphernalia of the Society. This project could not have been completed without their hard work and enthusiasm. Miss Andrea Baier, Mr Jeremy Theobald and Miss Louise Ryan of Wiley’s have worked tirelessly to help with the production issues and the completion of this project in the completely ridiculous timescale set by the Editors. Getting this work published in the Centenary Year would not have been possible without their efforts and those of others within Wiley’s. Of course it goes without saying that the rush was the fault of the Editors: we have known for nearly 100 years when the Centenary would be!

Chapter 1 is a short biography of the first Secretary of the Society, James Ritchie. This is followed (chapter 2) by a re-print of the first History of the Society that was written by J Dible and published in the Journal of Pathology and Bacteriology in 1957 (J Path Bact 1957;73 Supplement 1-35). At the Committee meeting of July 1981 held at Ninewell’s Hospital in Dundee, it was proposed that the article by Dible describing the first 50 years of the Society be reprinted and published in a monograph along with a 75thAnniversary appreciation that had been written by Alan Lendrum. It was reasonably recorded in the Minutes ‘that it was hard to predict likely sales’. Six months later (January 1982, Churchill College, Cambridge) the Committee took a less enthusiastic approach and decided to not re-publish Dible’s article of 1957, but only to publish the new Lendrum appreciation. By July of that year enthusiasm had further waned and it was now decided to not publish even the Lendrum article as a stand alone pamphlet, but rather for it to appear in the Journal of Pathology with an introduction by the then General Secretary, McEntegart. Sadly this never happened, perhaps because the Society was in turmoil after the untiumely death of its Treasurer and the Editor of the Journal of Pathology, WG Spector. Consequently the 75th Anniversary appreciation, that takes the story of the Society from the end of the Dible history through to the beginning of the 1980s, languished in the Society archive, and has never before been seen in print, but can be found here (chapter 3). We thank the family of the late Alan Lendrum for permission to publish his insightful commentary.

Chapter 4 considers the finances of the Society and is written by Munro Neville: the first of three contemporary Treasurers who happened to be Scots and have unimpeachable credentials as men of extreme prudence! The evolution of the Society over the past 25 years is the theme taken over the following 3 chapters where they provide perspectives on the meetings, people and events of the 1980s (chapter 5 by Walker), 1990s (chapter 6 by Levison), as well as the recent years of the Society (chapter 7 by Hall & Burt). Scattered through the volume are to be found short vignettes and anecdotes proffered to the editors by Society members. We have published as many as we could find space. They appear unedited and provide an interesting, and sometimes amusing, perspective on the changing nature of the Society and its meetings.

The next two chapters consider the linked issues of the fortunes of the Society's Journal and the waxing and waning of Academic Pathology. The Journal of Pathology and Bacteriology has an impressive pedigree and is now available back to its inception online. In 1969 it became the Journal of Pathology with the foundation of the Journal of Medical Microbiology and later reviews in Microbiology. In recent years the Journal of Pathology has regained its pre-eminence as one of the premier pathology Journals, a position we guard jealously and are very proud of. This history and achievements of the Journal are discussed by the former Editor in Chief, Simon Herrington (chapter 8). In contrast to the upward trajectory of the Journal, Academic pathology in these islands has been under threat. In chapter 9, Nick Wright has written a discussion of the aetiology and pathogenesis of this and considers the macroscopic and microscopic features, the functional consequences, the prognosis and various remedies.

For most of the history of the Society there was an active Microbiology component to the Membership. Sadly for much of the last 3 decades there has been some degree of tension between this group and the more numerous tissue pathologists. This came to a head towards the end of the 1990s and in 2002 this group amicably moved away from the Society and joined the Society for General Microbiology. The huge contribution of microbiology to the Societies affairs and this later amicable separation are detailed in chapter 10 by Brian Deurden and Gerry Collee. Our relationship with another group, the Royal College of Pathologists is covered by James Underwood (former President of the RCPath and former meetings secretary of the Pathological Society) who provides a potted history of the College in chapter 11.

Change is something we all experience and few of us truly enjoy and change is the theme of the next 5 Chapters. Many have reservations about some aspects of modern educational theory and it has certainly impacted on pathology in medical education. In chapter 12, the changing role of pathology in the undergraduate curriculum is the theme taken by Paola Domizio, who is both a pathologist and Professor of Medical Education. There has also been radical change in the training of pathologists: change that continues apace. This are is discussed by Patrick Gallagher in chapter 13 and leads into a discussion of the changing work patterns of pathology by Chris Elston, Alistair Burt and Neil Shepherd in chapter 14. One of the most important changes in diagnostic practice as well as in research has been the impact of antibodies. In chapter 15, Elisabeth Soilleux and Kevin Gatter concisely review this revolution and define the state of the art, circa 2006! Neuropathology has similarly changed and the history of this important sub-speciality is reviewed in chapter 16 by Dame Ingrid Allen.

But what of the future? Further change will ensue without question. There are those who view the march of molecular biology to be central to the future of the discipline, while others might view the conventional H&E stained histological section to be the cornerstone of current and all likely future practice. Chapter 17 considers whether the H&E will be replaced by ‘chips’ or whether the H&E will hold sway! Readers will have their own views! In chapter 18, John O’Leary has taken the ideas a step further and has placed himself 20 years in the future and considers the state of pathology as the Society moves towards its 125th birthday. This is a challenging chapter and argues that the range of skills we need must widen considerably for Pathology to survive. Historical data are presented in numerous appendicies. The Society is committed to raising the profile of pathology, fostering the discipline and working with other organisations to promote the understanding of disease. Certainly the Society faces challenges and as we celebrate our Centenary we hope that his volume provides perspectives on the past and stimulates some thought and debate about our future.


Peter Hall, Former General Secretary (2003 - 2008)
Nick Wright, Past President (2001 - 2007)