Interested in the History of Neurology?

By P.J. Koehler MD, PhD, FAAN

P.J. Koehler MD, PhD, FAAN

Since December 2020, the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) organizes monthly virtual (Zoom) presentations, every third Wednesday of the month, usually at 10 p.m. (Amsterdam, 4 p.m. New York).

Meetings are recorded and sent to interested colleagues living in a part of the globe, where it will be night. Typical meetings last about one hour, including a 40-minute presentation, followed by a usually vivid discussion. Here is a short impression of what we have been doing during the past year

In December, we started with a lecture by Paul Foley, who has a PhD in the history of medicine from the University of Würzburg (Germany) and is currently scientific and research editor of Medical Journal of Australia. He published a comprehensive book on Encephalitis Lethargica. The Mind and Brain Virus (2018). His presentation was on the interesting history of the Schwann cell.

In January, we had a presentation on “John Yerbury Dent, Apomorphine and addiction(s): An Unfinished History,” by Manon Auffret, who is at the “Behavior & Basal Ganglia Research Unit,” University of Rennes, France.

In February, Marco Piccolini, who was professor of general physiology at the University of Ferrara in Italy, talked about “Scientists on the run at the time of the ‘racial laws’: the case of Giuseppe Levi and Rita Levi-Montalcini.” (figure 1)

Nobel Laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini (Courtesy, Becker Library, Washington University, St. Louis (MS)

In March, we had Paul Eling (University of Nijmegen, Netherlands) and Stan Finger (Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri). They talked about “Gall, God, and Religion,” a presentation that aroused quite some discussion. Chris Boes, neurologist at the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN), who was recently appointed professor of the history of medicine, talked about “Harry Lee Parker: Games Lost and Won on the Playing Fields of Neurology.”

In May, Frank Stahnisch, professor of the history of medicine in Calgary, Canada, gave a presentation on “A New Field in Mind. A History of Interdisciplinarity in the Early Brain Sciences.”

Following the summer break, we continued in September with Gagandeep Singh, who is consultant neurologist associated with Dayanand Medical College & Hospital in Ludhiana, India. He gave a presentation on “The Visual Aura – Epileptic or Migrainous. A Historical Perspective.”

In October, Edward Fine, University of Buffalo, NY, gave his talk on “Origins of Comprehensive Care of Persons With Epilepsy in the U.S.”

If these subjects arouse your interest in the history of neurology and you wish to attend one or more of the meetings to come, see or ISHN Monthly Zoom Meeting | Please send an email to Persons who would like to present a lecture may write too. Open slots are available from May 2022. •

P.J. Koehler MD, PhD, FAAN, edits the history column for World Neurology and is chair of Specialty Group for the History of the Neurosciences for the WFN and co-editor of Journal of the History of the Neurosciences.

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His website is at:

Forthcoming Lectures

Nov. 17 Georgina Chapman: The Story of Prosopagnosia: From a Curiosity to a Commonality
Dec. 15 Edward Reynolds: Robert Bentley Todd’s Contribution to Neurology and Neurosciences
Jan. 19 Rohit Das: Neurology During the Great War
Feb. 16 John Jarrell: Historical Contribution of the Ovary to Hysteria; The Paradox of Ovarian Compression Explored