Paris neurology and psychiatry : public versus private contexts


University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada K1H 8M5


During the second- half of the 19th century, the disciplines of neurology and psychiatry in Paris appeared neatly demarcated in terms of their separate historical developments, clinical categories, and distinctive institutional niches, such as hospital wards, public teaching chairs, societies, and specialized journals. Leading practitioners in each field had clear and distinct identities, as epitomized by Charcot, the dominant neuropathologist of the era, and Magnan, his counterpart among the alienists. While Charcot claimed, for example, that general paralysis of the insane belonged to his discipline as far as its neuropathological manifestations were concerned, he readily yielded the mental aspects of the same disease to psychiatry. Similar nosological distinctions applied to neuroses, such as epilepsy and hysteria, and these found expression in administrative regulations like the decision in 1870 to segregate non-insane hysterics and epileptics from the insane at the Salpêtrière hospital.

Nonetheless, fissures in this disciplinary compartmentalization are evident. Charcot and Magnan in fact collaborated on a several-part article in which it appears that the two men treated private patients together or at least consulted one another on cases involving sexual and other emotional disorders of varying severity. Following this suggestive lead, I seek to show the extent to which neurologists in Paris, as is well-known for other centers, crossed over into psychiatry in their private practices. Using the test case of Charcot, the supreme example of a "pure neurologist", I contrast his public position on psychiatry with his private practice. To explore the latter, I make use of unpublished as well as published case histories.


Plenary 4   (Auguste Forel Lecture)
Thursday, 16 September 1999

The Neurosciences and Psychiatry: Crossing the Boundaries

Joint Congress of the European Association for the History of Psychiatry (EAHP), the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN), and the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, 13-18 September 1999