Making neuroscience research an interdisciplinary endeavour: The cognitive basis of Ludwig Edinger’s (1855-1918) institute at Frankfurt am Main

Johannes Gutenberg-University, Mainz, Germany

Ludwig Edinger is often perceived as a functional neuroanatomist who followed traditional lines of microscopical research. That he was a rather fascinating and many-sided figure around the change from late 19th- to early 20th-century neuroscience goes quite unnoticed. Edinger’s career and even his more straightforward notion of future neuroscientific progress stand at the edge of an old institutionalised research style, which developed to a multi-perspective and advanced scientific conduct. Being conceptually influenced by the Austrian neuromorphologist Heinrich Obersteiner (1847-1922) and his foundation of the ‘Neurological Institute’ at Vienna in 1882, Edinger established many scientific requirements and institutional settings that paved the way for a new type of neuroscience research.

After completion of his medical training that brought him in close working relationships with some great clinicians, such as Friedrich von Recklinghausen [1810-1879] and Adolf Kussmaul (1822-1902), Edinger settled as one of the first clinical neurologists (‘Nervenaerzte’) in the city of Frankfurt am Main in 1883. Here, he began to collaborate with the neuropathologist Carl Weigert (1845-1904) who worked at the independent research institute of the ‘Senckenbergische Anatomie.’ Since the year 1907, Edinger organised the equipment of a new laboratory for neuroscience research in the recently constructed ‘Senckenbergische Pathologie.’ The institution was later called the ‘Neurological Institute’, which was to be an interdisciplinary working-place for the study of the nervous system in comparative, morphological, experimental and clinical perspective. Even after Edinger’s death and under the austere circumstances of the Weimar Period, three serviceable divisions continued with fruitful research: the unit of comparative neurology (which had been inaugurated by Edinger himself), the unit of neuropsychology and neuropathology (Kurt Goldstein, 1865-1965), and an associated unit of paleoneurology (Tilly Edinger, 1897-1967).

Nevertheless, it was the vicinity of the clinic that used to attract Edinger’s attention and that lead him to conceive a successful model of neuroscience research, which joined together different scientific perspectives in a unique and modern way. Drawing on archival materials, correspondence and research publications, this paper will explore how prominent neuroscientist Edinger sought to conceive and reorganise the relation of basic, clinical and theoretical neuroscience.

Session VIII
Wednesday, 6 July 2005, 4.30 - 5.00 pm

Tenth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and
Tenth Meeting of the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN)

St. Andrews, Scotland, 2005