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Title: Wilhelm Erb's electrotherapeutics and scientific medicine in 19th century Germany
Author: Bryan, Bettina Alexandra
ISNI:       0000 0001 3506 4133
Awarding Body: University College London (University of London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 1996
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Wilhelm Heinrich Erb (1840-1921) was the codiscoverer 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 illustrates 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.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available