The conceptualization and organization of the first International Neurological Congress (1931): The coming of age of neurology

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The first International Neurological Congress (Berne, Switzerland, 1931), attended by individuals from 42 countries, signified a global presence of world neurology; a coming of age. The aim of this study was to trace the history of that Congress, an important episode in the emergence of our discipline. The historical literature was reviewed and a detailed study conducted of the Henry Alsop Riley Papers, Columbia University. These papers contain primary source material from the Berne conference. In 1927, two neurologists, Bernard Sachs (American, 1858-1944) and Otto Marburg (Austrian, 1874-1948) met at an Austrian spa town and began to consider the creation of a meeting with a truly international character. The Americans were to play a seminal role in the organization of the Congress. In 1928, an introductory letter from Sachs went out to the international community and, in 1929, a planning meeting was held and the general principles of the Congress were established. Several earlier attempted congresses had been thwarted by World War I and European tensions would also influence the organization of the Berne Congress. Gordon Holmes (1876-1965) wrote: 'It would be certainly wiser to have the meeting in Scandinavia, Holland or Switzerland, as the only difficulty may be to get the French and Germans to mix.' Interest in the congress was immense and subsequent international congresses (London, Copenhagen, Paris, Lisbon and Brussels) became a central event in world neurology. In summary, the Berne Congress brought together individuals from several continents, thereby facilitating the exchange of ideas across entire schools. More broadly, the congress reflected a growing trend toward specialization in neurology and medicine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2160-2166
Number of pages7
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • 1931
  • 20th century
  • Berne
  • First International Neurological Congress
  • history

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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