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Wilhelm Erb's electrotherapeutics and scientific medicine in the 19th century Germany

Bryan, Bettina Alexandra; (1997) Wilhelm Erb's electrotherapeutics and scientific medicine in the 19th century Germany. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D.), University College London (United Kingdom). Green open access

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Abstract

Wilhelm Heinrich Erb (1840-1921) was the co-discoverer of the knee jerk response and is often referred to as the German counterpart of the French neurologist Jean Charcot. Erb advocated the use of electricity as a therapeutic agent, particularly in nervous diseases. He belonged to the first generation of German physicians educated in the spirit of Virchow's programme of naturwissenschaftliche Medizin. Among them were his mentor Nikolaus Friedreich, who exerted the most decisive and singular influence upon Erb, Albert Eulenburg, Eduard Hitzig and Hugo von Ziemssen. They were all reputable scientifically minded clinicians with a keen interest in advancing medical therapy and among the most ardent supporters of 'scientific' electrotherapy. My thesis is not intended to be a comprehensive biographical account of Erb's life but aims to explore the broader reasons for his advocacy of electrotherapy during the first phase (1860-1880) of the implementation of natural scientific medicine in Germany. Part I portrays the contemporary social, political and institutional context at Heidelberg University located in the German State of Baden where Erb received his medical training and spent almost exclusively his entire professional career. Part II ilustrates the intellectual roots and epistemological objectives of Rudolf Virchow's concept of naturwissenschaftliche Medizin, I emphasize the political and social significance of Virchow's medical reform and its appeal to a generation of medical men raised in the aftermath of the failed 1848 Revolution. Erb is characterised as a "typical child of his time." I also discuss the aesthetic appeal of electricity which helped to promote its medical utilisation. Part III provides a history of German electrotherapy and investigates the intra-scientific rationale for the momentary enthusiastic employment of medical electricity. It concludes with an analysis of Erb's chief electrotherapeutic publications and actual practice.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D.
Title: Wilhelm Erb's electrotherapeutics and scientific medicine in the 19th century Germany
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: (UMI)AAI10017275; Health and environmental sciences
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10101837
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