While representing one of the most important developments in the knowledge of the brain, both for its theoretical advances and its medical consequences, the work of David Ferrier met with strong criticism from conservative circles in Victorian society. At the end of 19th century certain British neurologists and neurosurgeons – including Ferrier – faced vehement public attacks by those aristocrats who, under the banner of antivivisectionism and “natural theology”, expressed their fears of the reorganization of medicine into a scientific discipline. The debate that developed in Victorian society after these events led not only to the diffusion of Ferrier’s ideas and public recognition of the advanced neurosurgical practices that stemmed from his work, but also contributed to the affirmation of the medical community in the scientific world of the time.
Ever since the phrenological heads of the early 19th century, maps have translated into images our ideas, theories and models of the brain, making this organ at one and the same time scientific object and representation. Brain maps have always served as gateways for navigating and visualizing neuroscientific knowledge, and over time many different maps have been produced – firstly as tools to “read” and analyse the cerebral territory, then as instruments to produce new models of the brain. Over the last 150 years brain cartography has evolved from a way of identifying brain regions and localizing them for clinical use to an anatomical framework onto which information about local properties and functions can be integrated to provide a view of the brain’s structural and functional architecture. In this paper a historical and epistemological consideration of the topic is offered as a contribution to the understanding of contemporary brain mapping, based on the assumption that the brain continuously rewires itself in relation to individual experience.
title SUMMARY /title This article starts with the description of a medical case: the removal of a brain tumor carried out in 1886 in London at the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic. This medical case is recorded in the Casebooks that today can be found in the archive of the hospital. Firstly, there is the description of the patient's state of health and of the intracranical surgery performed by Victor Horsley who referred himself to David Ferrier's cortical maps. Secondly, there is the reconstruction of the theoretical path that led Ferrier, in the 1870s, to prove on an experimental basis the existence of different localised cerebral functions in specific cortical areas. These cerebral localizations are then compared with the model that, at the beginning of the century, contained their first theoretical seed: the Organology of Franz Joseph Gall.