Nickerson Fellowship Talk, May 2nd

Nickerson Fellowship Talk

Abstract: Under specific consideration of the theoretical approaches and practical research influences of “interdisciplinarity” in neuroscientific research, this presentation (as the “Nickerson Fellowship Talk”) addresses a time period and a subject of investigation that has only marginally been dealt with in the history of medicine and neurosciences: the influences and the context of the creation of early centres of neuroscientific research at the beginning of the 20th century.

Breaking with the disciplinary set-up of “brain research” in the 19th century, prominent medical researchers such as Heinrich Obersteiner (Vienna), Otfrid Foerster (Breslau), Ludwig Edinger (Frankfurt), Emil Kraepelin (Munich), and Oskar Vogt (Berlin) helped to foster new trends in group-oriented neuroscientific activity.  These approaches later served as major templates for such influential North American brain researchers as Wilder Penfield (Montreal), Harvey Cushing (Boston), and Francis O. Schmitt (St. Louis) and strongly reshaped the manner in which research investigations in the biomedical life sciences took place in the 20th century.

Yet so far, we do not have a sufficient historical understanding nor a philosophical explanation of what triggered these developments in the first place and how theoretical, methodological, and pragmatic factors played together in creating these new and fascinating forms of research organization.  This presentation – by particularly focusing on Foerster’s Neurological Institute in Breslau and Penfield’s research visits in the 1920s and 1930s – intends to give some tentative answers as to the place, time, and culture in which these scientific and philosophical changes began to transform early neuroscientific research in Europe and North America.


Frank W. Stahnisch is an Associate Professor at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.  Since 2008, he holds the AMF/Hannah Professorship in the History of Medicine and Health Care at the UofC, and is cross-appointed in the Department of History (Faculty of Arts) and the Department of Community Health Sciences (Faculty of Medicine).  He is also a full academic member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, the Institute for Public Health, as well as academic coordinator (History) of the Calgary History and Philosophy of Science undergraduate and graduate programs.  Prior to joining the University of Calgary, he has held teaching positions at the Humboldt University of Berlin; the University of Erlangen-Nuernberg, and Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz (Germany), and has also been a Visiting Professor at McGill University (Montréal), in Canada, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin) and the University of Heidelberg, in Germany.


Spotlight on: Medical History of British India

In this series, I’ll be highlighting a digital resource or collection of primary resource materials in the history of medicine. You can find a lengthy list of these at our history of medicine subject guide and feel free to share any resources you’ve found useful!

Medical History of British India is a fascinating digital collection from the National Library of Scotland. The materials digitized for this collection consist mostly of documents from the India Papers Collection. The India Papers Collection is made up of central British Imperial and British Indian government publications from the mid-19th century until the first decades of the 20th century. The Medical History of British India project has digitized and made available online the many volumes of reports relating to public health, disease, and medical research. It even includes 146 volumes (40,000 pages!) on veterinary medicine. The online collection is divided into 6 primary subject areas: disease, institutions, drugs, veterinary, mental health, and vaccination. You can browse by these sub-collections, or browse by other criteria such as form and genre (includes images, maps, and texts), place, subject, person and organization, and time period. All of the digitized volumes are also fully text searchable, a great research benefit. Another interesting feature is that you can download up to 30 images to create a custom PDF, which brings together only the pages you need.  The About the collection page gives a great introduction to all of the major subjects covered—click on the link to Institutions and you will get lots of good background information about the organization of medical research, hospitals, and healthcare services in British India.




Spring events at the Osler Library

Two upcoming talks organized by the Osler Library to put on your calendar now!


First, on Thursday afternoon, May 2nd, Dr. Frank Stahnisch, Nickerson Fellow in Neuro History, will present a talk on “’Neurological Laboratories’ to Interdisciplinary ‘Centres of Brain Research’: Otfrid Foerster, Wilder Penfield, and Early Neuroscience in Breslau and Montreal. 2-3pm in the Department of Social Studies of Medicine, Don Bates Seminar Room 101.


Then on Tuesday, May 7th, Prof. Annmarie Adams, curator of our current exhibit entitled “Designing Doctors” will give a talk. 1-2 pm, Meakins Auditorium (McIntyre Medical Building, 5th floor).


Please join us!


Have a look at our Exhibits and lectures page for these and past events (including online exhibitions and recorded


Walter de Mouilpied Scriver Fonds

The library has a couple new archival materials of Walter de M. Scriver. Dr. Scriver was born in Hemmingford, Quebec, and received his B.A. from McGill University in 1915. He served overseas from 1915-1918, returning to Montreal to earn his medical degree from McGill in 1921. He was Professor Medicine at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine from 1952-1957 and physician-in-chief at the Royal Victoria Hospital. He specialized in the field of pharmacology and had a research interest in diabetes and kidney diseases. He was instrumental in founding the Quebec Division of the Canadian medical association and served as a member of its Executive Committee from 1947-1957.

The fonds includes a copy of No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill), 1914-1919 owned by Walter de M. Scriver and ephemera relating to Canadian General Hospital No. 3. It also contains a handwritten poem (in 4 cantos) entitled “Tune of T’anks,” composed by Scrivner for his family and dated France, 1915.


For more information, please feel free to contact the library at Find out about other WWI physicians linked to McGill through our archival database.

Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière

Jean-Martin Charcot. Portrait by Pierre Petit from the Osler Library Prints Collection, OP000262.

Jean-Martin Charcot. Portrait by Pierre Petit from the Osler Library Prints Collection, OP000262.

The Osler Library recently acquired the work Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière. Service de M. Charcot. Published in Paris by Les Bureaux du progrès médical between 1876-1880, this three-volume book is by Desiré Magloire Bourneville (1840-1909) and Paul-Marie-Léon Regnard (1850-1927), students of the titular Monsieur Charcot, known as “the father of neurology” and whose work on hysteria, the “great neurosis,” fills these pages.

Jean-Martin Charcot (1925-1893) worked and taught at the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, originally a saltpetre factory before it was set up as a hospice in the 17th century to house and treat women with mental illness or epilepsy. The hospital also included a prison for women convicted for prostitution. The 19th century brought some humanitarian reforms in the treatment of mentally ill criminals and La Salpêtrière was reconceived as a psychiatric hospital under Charcot’s stewardship. His research there won him students and admirers from across Europe, including a young doctor named Sigmund Freud.

Charcot became famous for his work in neuropathology through a series of lectures on hysteria, the first of which was given in June of 1870. His method attempted to correlate observable signs of hysteria in patients with lesions in the brains discovered through eventual autopsy. The Iconographie photographique emerged from these studies and was intended to provide an objective account of hysteria and epilepsy, believed to be a related nervous disease, through the still relatively new technology of photography. 119 black and white images, mostly photolithographs, depict young female patients in various stages of hysterical “attacks.” These are accompanied by the case histories of patients, which include clinical findings such as rates of respiration and pulse, extremely precise physical descriptions such as measurements of head and limb circumference, and even transcripts of patients’ delirious ramblings.

The photographs reproduced are labeled according to the stages of hysteric attack as Charcot identified and named them:

"Période épileptoide," plate 13.

“Période épileptoide,” plate 13. This Charcot defined as the presence of seizures, muscular contracts, or outbursts.

"Attitudes passionnelles" - "extase." Plate 23. This third phase (following the "clown stage," or one characterized by "grands mouvements") was defined by empassioned gestures of the patients: visible extasy or withdrawal into contemplative or even beatific states.

“Attitudes passionnelles” – “extase.” Plate 23. This third phase (following the “clown stage,” or one characterized by “grands mouvements”) was defined by impassioned gestures, visible ecstasy, or withdrawal into contemplative or even beatific states.

"Béatitude." Plate 38.

“Béatitude.” Plate 38.

The Osler copy is also accompanied by an additional volume, the original set of 40 albumen prints of photographs taken by Paul Regnard, issued in a cloth-backed printed portfolio. It is the only copy of this work in Canada. This item was purchased through the generosity of the Friends of the McGill University Library.

References and further reading:

Christopher G. Goetz et al. Charcot: constructing neurology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

J. Bogousslavsky, ed. Following Charcot: a forgotten history of neurology and psychiatry. Basel ; New York : Karger, 2011.

Jane Kromm. The art of frenzy : public madness in the visual culture of Europe, 1500-1850. London ; New York : Continuum, 2002.

Asti Hustvedt. Medical muses : hysteria in nineteenth-century Paris. New York : Norton, 2011.

Tiphaine Besnard. Les prostituées à la Salpêtrière et dans le discours médical : 1850-1914 : une folle débauche. Paris : L’Harmattan, 2010.

Please contact for more information.

Some new titles – March

How was your March? In like a lion, out like a lamb? Too long ago to remember? Lots of new circulating titles came roaring in this month! Here’s a small sampling:


Regimental Practice by John Buchanan, M.D. : an eighteenth-century medical diary and manual, by John Buchanan. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2012.

John Buchanan drew on his experience as a medical officer in the British army to produce his “Regimental Practice,“ a treatise on military medicine. This is a new edition of this 18th century primary resource.


L’ergothérapie au Québec : histoire d’une profession by Francine Ferland and Elisabeth Dutil. [Montréal] : Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 2012.
From Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal:

Il raconte aussi comment cette profession, pratiquée surtout par des femmes, a connu un essor majeur, comment elle est devenue une profession à part entière au Québec et a acquis ses lettres de noblesse. (Alain Bibeau)


L’uroscopie au Moyen Âge : “lire dans un verre la nature de l’homme,” by Laurence Moulinier-Brogi,  Paris : Champion, 2012.

Reviewed in the Cahier des recherches medievales et humanistes/Journal of Medieval and Humanities Studies (Aug. 2012) [open access]. You can also hear an interview with the author with medieval medical historian Danielle Jacquart hosted by famous medievalist Jacques Le Goff on French radio station FranceCulture.


Reproducing women : family and health work across three generations by Marilyn Porter. Halifax: Fernwood, 2012.

A work in the field of sociology of medicine that examines aspects of how woman understand and experience their reproductive health is understood and experienced within family contexts.  Features interviews and stories from Canadian women. From Fernwood Publishing:

…this book examines women’s experience of their “reproductive lives” in order to uncover how women’s experience is rooted in the family and among generational relationships: between mother, daughter, grandmother and granddaughter.


Atlas of epidemic Britain : a twentieth century picture by Matthew Smallman-Raynor and Andrew Cliff. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

A history of infectious disease in Britain over the 20th century, with historical information presented through more than 350 maps, charts, and photographs. Benedict W. Wheeler reviews this work in the journal Critical Public Health, v. 23, no. 1 (2013):121-122. [McGill users].


Why millions died : before the war on infectious diseases by George H. Scherr. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2012.

Scherr examines historical theories of disease causation and why germ theory took so long to be discovered and accepted.

Online resource: Travel Journals of Martin Lister

A new online resource brings together the travel journals and memoirs of English physician Dr. Martin Lister (1639-1712): Every Man’s Companion: Or, a Useful Pocket-Book.

As a medical student in Montpellier, Lister kept pocket books of his lessons and observations. Here he closely documented, among other things, the medical texts and recipes he used and acquired and the many observations on natural history that were the mark of a gentleman-naturalist. This site, by medical historian Dr. Anna Marie Roos, traces Lister’s peregrinatio medica, his travels for the purposes of medical education, from England to Montpellier and home again via Paris. Also included on the site is a page detailing the books that accompanied Lister on his travels and during his schooling

Detail from Dr. Roos' interactive map of Lister's travels.

Detail from Dr. Roos’ interactive map of Lister’s travels.


Further reading:

For more about medical travel and foreign medical education in the early modern period, see Ole Peter Grell, Andrew Cunningham, and Jon Arrizabalaga’s edited volume Centres of Medical Excellence?: Medical Travel and Education in Europe, 1500-1789. Burlington, VT : Ashgate, 2010.