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Charles Bell and the Anatomy of Reform$
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Carin Berkowitz

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226280394

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226280424.001.0001

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Defining a Discovery

Defining a Discovery

Changes in British Medical Culture and the Priority Dispute over the Discovery of the Roots of Motor and Sensory Nerves

Chapter:
(p.130) Chapter Five Defining a Discovery
Source:
Charles Bell and the Anatomy of Reform
Author(s):

Carin Berkowitz

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226280424.003.0006

This chapter details Bell’s long priority dispute with the Frenchman François Magendie over the discovery of separate roots of motor and sensory nerves. Their dispute can be understood in terms of changes in medical pedagogy and medical politics through the first four decades of the nineteenth century. When Bell first wrote on the nerves in 1811, surgeon-anatomists ran small schools of anatomy in their homes, and walked the wards of the charitable hospitals that provided clinical experience for practically-minded students. Exchanges between British and French medical practitioners were limited by the Napoleonic Wars, and it was reasonable to assume that British practitioners would reject the vivisection that was being adopted in France as a method for understanding the body. By 1823, when the Frenchman François Magendie claimed a very similar discovery for himself, the medical world had changed a great deal. Journals were beginning to proliferate, physiology had supplanted anatomy as the fundamental medical science, and vivisection was now accepted as a routine part of medical education. Thus Bell’s struggle to assert his own priority occurred alongside a parallel and intertwined struggle to establish the sort of medical and surgical education upon which Bell built his own reputation.

Keywords:   Charles Bell, motor and sensory nerves, discovery, priority dispute, François Magendie, Herbert Mayo, vivisection, experiment, publication

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