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Jules Dejerine in the chair of history of medicine - 28/01/17

Doi : 10.1016/j.neurol.2016.12.022 
Jacques Poirier  : Professeur honoraire
 Faculté de médecine Pitié-Salpêtrière, Académie nationale de médecine, 40, rue d’Alleray, 75015 Paris, France 

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Appointed professor holding the chair of medical history of the Paris Faculty of Medicine in 1901, Jules Dejerine (1849–1917), physician head of department at the Salpêtrière hospital, associate professor since 1886, had to teach ex cathedra at the age of 53 a discipline which, until then, he had never been interested in. Indeed, unlike his predecessor Edouard Brissaud (1852–1909), who had a real interest in the history of medicine and who had devoted several articles to it, Dejerine had never had the slightest attraction to the history of medicine and had never published anything in this area.

The chair of history of medicine, founded in 1795 at the Medical School of Paris and then suppressed after the closing of the Faculty in 1822, was created again in 1870 thanks to the generous bequest of a philanthropist, Auguste Marie-Achille Champotran Salmon (1811–1869), counsel of the Conseil d’État. Charles Daremberg (1817–1872), who previously taught history of medicine at the College of France, was the first full-time professor appointed to this chair. But Daremberg died two years later and, subsequently; the chair was rarely occupied for a long time by the same professor.

To understand how Dejerine ended up as a professor of history of medicine in 1901 and held this position until 1907, it is necessary to go back to basics. It all began in November 1896 with the vacancy of the chair of medical pathology, to which Victor Hutinel was appointed by sixteen votes to fourteen to Brissaud. In compensation, Brissaud was given formal assurance by the members of the Faculty council that he would be unanimously elected to the chair of history of medicine when it became vacant. As expected, after the death of Alexandre Laboulbène in 1898, Brissaud was unanimously elected professor of history of medicine. He occupied the chair during the academic year 1899–1900. But less than a year after being elected, he asked to swap for a chair of medical pathology, which had become vacant. Despite some reservations and objections to these permutations that some members of the faculty council considered excessive, especially Charles Richet (1850–1935) – a distinguished professor of physiology, who wished that the chair of history of medicine would not become a waiting chair, a springboard chair, a “a stepping stone”, “the antechamber chair” as Dr. Julien Noir, sub-editor of Le Progrès médical said – the Council accepted the permutation and Dejerine was elected by twenty-seven votes (out of thirty) to the chair of history of medicine. Six years later, in 1907, Dejerine obtained his permutation for a chair of medical pathology and Gilbert Ballet succeeded him in the chair of History of Medicine. After Ballet, the chair was attributed to Anatole Chauffard then to Maurice Letulle in 1911 and many professors succeeded one another in this chair till the ending of chairs in 1968.

For four years (1902–1903, 1903–1904, 1904–1905, 1905–1906), Dejerine gave lectures in this chair. Respectful of the honor bestowed to him, and used to working intensively, Dejerine devoted all his energies to strictly preparing his classes. His drafts kept in the family archives, and entrusted to Professor Michel Fardeau, show the considerable work that Dejerine did to prepare his lessons. They fill four large cardboard boxes of archives. Hundreds of leaflets are in his own handwriting or Augusta's or often both. He traveled throughout the history of medicine from Antiquity to contemporary times, but, as he had announced in his opening lecture, he focused on the history of diseases, and each year the scope of his teaching narrowed and became more and more specialized; from a general study, he passed on to a history of diseases, and to the history of the nervous system, brain and spinal cord diseases. What would have happened in the fifth year of teaching?

In his book on double biographies of Jules Dejerine and his wife Augusta, which we refer the reader to, Michel Fardeau makes a fascinating, extremely detailed analysis, year on year, of these drafts. He shows the importance of work and stresses the extensive borrowings that Dejerine made from his predecessors. So, for example, largely drawing from the work of Charles Daremberg, Dejerine unbound two copies of his History of Medical Sciences “to paste each front and back of each page of this book on sheets of larger size, to annotate and write in the margins.”

Having said that, and regardless of the indisputable qualities of these lessons, it is clear that Dejerine preferred to theoretical lectures clinical teaching at patients’ bedside and lessons with the presentation of patients, into which he put all his energies, “striding up and down the space that was assigned to him, stopping only in front of his patient to show an interesting and demonstrative sign. He drew the warmth of his speeches from his own movement […] Dejerine was himself only when teaching the things he had personally experienced”, as Gauckler said.

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 Meeting abstract Jules Dejerine: Bilingual publication (English version).

© 2016  Publié par Elsevier Masson SAS.
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Vol 173 - N° S1

P. S22-S23 - février 2017 Retour au numéro
Article précédent Article précédent
  • Jules Dejerine, dans la Chaire d’Histoire de la Médecine
  • Jacques Poirier
| Article suivant Article suivant
  • Dejerine et les psychonévroses
  • Philippe Mazet

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