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World Neurosurg. 2011 May-Jun;75(5-6):750-3; discussion 624-5. doi: 10.1016/j.wneu.2010.12.008.

Charles Edouard Brown-Séquard's departure from the Medical College of Virginia: incompatible science or incompatible social views in pre-Civil War southern United States.

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1
Inova Regional Neurosurgery Service, Department of Neurosurgery, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Inova Campus, Falls Church, Virginia, USA. Joseph.watson@inova.org

Abstract

Charles Edouard Brown-Séquard was one of the most colorful characters in modern physiology. His scientific methods of self-experimentation and animal vivisection led to many great observations, including the eponymous syndrome of hemisection of the spinal cord. Despite his renown, he stayed but one year in his first major academic post. Details of his sojourn at the Medical College of Virginia (now part of Virginia Commonwealth University) in Richmond were divined from perusal of archival material, letters, and from the available literature. His notoriety in the field of physiology landed him a post at the Medical College of Virginia in 1854 as the chair of physiology. During a brief time here, he was able to publish his landmark monograph of 1855 on the pathways of the spinal cord "Experimental and Clinical Researches on the Physiology and Pathology of the Spinal Cord." He had a near-death experience while experimenting on himself to determine the function of the skin. It was rumored that his English was poor, his lectures unintelligible, and his scientific methods disturbing to the neighbors and that for those reasons he was asked to vacate his post. Personal communications and other accounts indicate a different view: his mixed-blood heritage and his views on slavery were unpopular in the pre-Civil War southern United States. These disparate viewpoints lend an insight into the life and career of this pioneer in modern medicine and experimental design and to the clash of science and social views.

PMID:
21704947
DOI:
10.1016/j.wneu.2010.12.008
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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