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William Harvey

William Harvey Photo

William Harvey was an English physician born on April 1, 1578 renowned for his contributions to anatomy and physiology. Harvey was the first physician/theorist to accurately describe how the heart was responsible for pumping and circulating blood around the body. Harvey was born in Folkestone, Kent. His father Thomas Harvey, was a merchant, a successful businessman, and also happened to be the Mayor of Folkstone. In turn, Harvey was granted the opportunity to study in the most prominent schools of the time.

During the first few years of his education, Harvey attended an elementary school in Folkestone before enrolling at King’s Grammar School in Canterbury – an elitist school – at age 10. Harvey then acquired his college education at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge where he pursued studies predominantly in arts and medicine. In 1597, upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in arts from Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, Harvey toured universities in France, Germany, and Italy to learn more about science and medicine. His tour culminated with his enrollment at the University of Padua, Italy, in 1599, which was leading the front on medicine and anatomical studies. It was here that Harvey met the scientist and surgeon Hieronymous Fabricius who served as a tutor and a great influence on Harvey’s future anatomical studies. In 1602, Harvey graduated as a Doctor of Medicine from Padua. The same year, upon his return to England, he was also conferred with a Doctor of Medicine degree by the University of Cambridge. Harvey then moved to London and established himself as a physician and became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1607 and, in 1609, served as a lead physician at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. In 1618, Harvey was appointed as physician to King James I and then went on to serve in a similar capacity to Charles I in 1632.

Harvey continued his work on understanding the human anatomy, the vascular system in particular, and gained great recognition through his lectures on teaching surgery. Harvey was able to riddle the circulation of blood by defying conventional studies on the matter observing and recording his own findings, which were predominantly gained through dissecting animals and observing their anatomy in real time. The general belief of the time was established through Galen’s studies, which stated that the liver was responsible for governing the circulation of blood. At a time when new ideas challenged the old and the general skepticism concerning Galen’s work was mounting, Harvey managed to pen all his research findings that described a fresh perspective towards the center of blood circulation in the body and how the heart governed the system. Harvey maintained that the heartbeat was responsible for contracting the heart and splurging blood from the heart which was constantly circulated throughout the body.

Through repeated experiments and dissections of various animal species, Harvey revealed his findings to the College of Physicians in 1616 and published his research through his groundbreaking book ‘Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus’ (An Anatomical Study of the Motion of the Heart and of the Blood in Animals) in 1628. Harvey’s theory received great acclaim but at the same time met with skepticism as it polarized previous and existing practices in medicine. But it was during his lifetime, that his studies gained recognition and acceptance.


Harvey was also credited with having made momentous advances in the field of human and mammalian reproduction. Harvey was able to establish a direct link between the sperm and the fertilization of the egg. Although his theories concerning reproduction did not make any further advances, Harvey definitely gained the honor of serving as a precursor to the advancements and theories that followed suit.

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