David Ferrier’s Experimental Localization of Cerebral Functions and the Anti-Vivisection Debate

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  • 1 Department of Literary, Philosophical and History of Arts Studies, University of Rome Tor Vergata

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.

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    John David Spillane, The Doctrine of the Nerves. Chapters in the History of Neurology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 393; William MacCormac, Transactions of the International Medical Congress. 7th Session (London: Kolckmann, 1881), pp. 218–228 and 234–237.

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  • 5

    Robert Wilkins (ed.), Neurosurgical Classics (New York-London: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1965), p. 121.

  • 6

    Andreas Holger Maehle, Ulrich Trohler, “Animal Experimentation from Antiquity to the End of the Eighteenth Century: Attitudes and Arguments,” in Vivisection in Historical perspective, edited by Nicolaas Rupke (London: The Wellcome Institute, 1987), pp. 14–47.

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  • 7

    Judith Hampson, “Legislation: A Practical Solution to the Vivisection Dilemma,” in Vivisection in Historical Perspective, edited by Nicolaas Rupke (London: The Wellcome Institute, 1987), pp. 314–339.

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  • 8

    Patrizia Guarnieri, “Moritz Schiff (1823–96): Experimental Physiology and Noble Sentiment in Florence,” in Vivisection in Historical Perspective, edited by Nicolaas Rupke (London: The Wellcome Institute, 1987), pp. 314–339.

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  • 9

    Richard French, Antivivisection and Medical Science in Victorian Society (London: Princeton University Press, 1975).

  • 10

    John Scott Burdon-Sanderson, Handbook for the Physiological Laboratory (London: Churchill, 1873).

  • 11

    Diana Manuel, “Marshall Hall (1790–1857): Vivisection and the Development of Experimental Physiology,” in Vivisection in Historical Perspective, edited by Nicolaas Rupke (London: The Wellcome Institute, 1987), pp. 78–104.

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  • 15

    David Ferrier, “Cerebral Localisation in its Practical Relations,” Brain, 1889, XII:36–58.

  • 18

    Stanley Finger and James Stone, “Landmarks of Surgical Neurology and the Interplay of Disciplines,” in History of Neurology, edited by Stanley Finger, François Boller, Kenneth Tyler (Edinburgh: Elsevier, 2009), pp. 189–202.

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  • 20

    David Ferrier, “Cerebral Localisation in its Practical Relations,” Brain, 1889, XII:36–58, p. 47.

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