Historical review: a short history of German neurology – from its origins to the 1940s

  • This paper aims at reconstructing the development and role of German neurology between 1840 and 1940. Therefore a couple of original sources as well as selected material form the scattered secondary literature were assessed and reviewed. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, an intricate process of separation from internal medicine and psychiatry gradually led to forming a self-conscious community of German neurologists. While Moritz Heinrich Romberg had constructed a cognitive basis for neurology, scientific founders such as Wilhelm Erb, Carl Wernicke, Alois Alzheimer, Hermann Oppenheim, Max Nonne, and many others established the new discipline within modern medicine. In 1891, the first generation of “pure” neurologists succeeded in founding the German Journal for Neurology (Deutsche Zeitschrift für Nervenheilkunde) followed by an autonomous professional organisation, the Society of German Neurologists (Gesellschaft Deutscher Nervenärzte) in 1907. A variety of external factors, however, hampered the institutional evolution and thus the implementation of chairs and departments remained quite modest. In 1935, only 2 years after the National Socialists had seized power, the regulatory merger with the psychiatristsʼ society caused the cautious attempts of German neurologists for autonomy to end in complete failure. The imprisonment, murder and expulsion of neuroscientists declared as Jewish or non-Aryan caused profound changes in neurology, medicine, academic life, and health care in general. Further historical research is needed to reconstruct in detail the involvement of German neurologists in racial-hygienic and eugenic research as well as the institutional and scientific development of German neurology after World War II.

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Author:Axel Karenberg, Heiner Fangerau, Helmuth SteinmetzORCiDGND, Peter Berlit, Martin Grond
Parent Title (English):Neurological research and practice. 2019;1(1):1-6 doi:10.1186/s42466-019-0019-z
Publisher:BioMed Central Ltd
Place of publication:London
Document Type:Article
Date of Publication (online):2019/02/26
Date of first Publication:2019/02/26
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2020/08/27
Issue:Art. 14
Page Number:6
Institutes:Medizin / Medizin
Dewey Decimal Classification:6 Technik, Medizin, angewandte Wissenschaften / 61 Medizin und Gesundheit / 610 Medizin und Gesundheit
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - Namensnennung 4.0