Henry Head and S.A. Kinnier Wilson: the contested Jacksonian legacy

Stephen JACYNA
Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, London, United Kingdom


It is a commonplace of the history of the subject that John Hughlings Jackson was the most influential figure in nineteenth-century neurology. His influence was particularly strong among members of the Queen Square school who, through their teaching and publications, spread Jackson's doctrines throughout the world. What is less widely recognised is the diversity of interpretations made of this legacy. The paper considers the differences over the significance of Jackson's work between two of his notable self-professed disciples.

Samuel Alexander Kinnier Wilson (1878-1937) was among the most distinguished members of this school. Born in New Jersey, Kinnier Wilson's family moved to Great Britain where he was educated. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh where he first developed an interest in neurology. He undertook postgraduate training in Paris with Pierre Marie before settling in London. As well as his clinical and teaching work, Kinnier Wilson in 1920 was founding editor of the Journal of Neurology and Psychopathology.

Kinnier Wilson published extensively on various topics within neurology, including aphasia, apraxia, and the epilepsies. His work was marked by frequent references to and deferential quotations from the writings of John Hughlings Jackson. At the same time, however, he framed his views on the clinical and pathological manifestations of aphasia very much in opposition to those of another professed Jacksonian, Henry Head.

Head (1861-1940) studied in Cambridge and at University College London, as well as stays in Prague and Halle. Like Kinnier Wilson, Head spent most of his career as a clinician and teacher in London. He is best known for his work on sensation and aphasia. As editor of Brain, Head republished several of Jackson's papers in an effort to rescue his views from oblivion. In his highly polemical account of the history of aphasia studies, Head depicted Jackson as a solitary voice of sound reasoning in an era dominated by excessively schematic views. His own views on the subject were avowedly based on Jacksonian principles.

The paper will compare Kinnier Wilson's and Head's understanding of the Jacksonian legacy. It will aim thereby to gain additional insights into the state of neurological thinking in the early decades of the twentieth century with special reference to the debate between holist and more classical localizationist attitudes.


Session V -- Hughlings Jackson
Monday, 3 June 2002, 10:30 am

Seventh Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Los Angeles, California, USA