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On 27 January 2021 we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of the greatest neuroanatomist of all time, Thomas Willis.

Engraving of Thomas Willis

This year marks 400 years since the birth of Thomas Willis, pioneer in research into the anatomy of the brain, nervous system and muscles, as demonstrated through his discovery of the Circle of Willis, and widely credited as the Father of Neurology, even coining the word 'neurologia. He was considered the most famous physician of his time and a fine anatomist celebrated for his dissections of the brain and of the cranial and spinal nerves in 17th century Oxford. 

The middle of the 17th century was a period of huge intellectual ferment at Oxford and fundamentally shaped both religion and science. Thomas Willis’s medical training was interrupted by the Civil War, but he was then able to start his medical practice during the Protectorate and he was promoted to Professor after the Restoration. Probably one of the most famous stories about Willis occurs at the end of the Civil War: the case of Anne Greene, whom Willis, together with William Petty, resuscitated after she was executed by hanging and brought to them for dissection, which is credited for directly helping Willis's medical career to take off.

Professor Zoltán Molnár interviews

In celebration of the 400th anniversary of his birth, Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics (DPAG) and St Johns College are releasing interviews conducted by DPAG'S Professor Zoltán Molnár with historians, neurologists, neuroscientists and writers discussing various aspects of Willis’ life.

Dr Erica Charters - a History of Medicine perspective

Professor Zoltán Molnár talks to Dr Erica Charters (Associate Professor of Global History and the History of Medicine) for a History of Medicine perspective on Oxford physician and Father of Neurology Thomas Willis.

Erica gives us a fascinating summary about the influence of the Civil War shaped Willis’s life, group of colleagues, research and his clinical practice.

Professor Alastair Buchan - Thomas Willis's residence and base for scientific discoveries, Beam Hall

Professor Zoltán Molnár talks to Professor Alastair Buchan (Radcliffe Department of Medicine) as Fellow of Corpus Christi College, the college that owns Beam Hall, to find out more about the history of this building, the origins of the Circle of Willis and the scientific legacy of Anne Greene's resuscitation.

Associate PROFESSOR Chrystalina Antoniades - Circle of Willis

Professor Zoltán Molnár talks to Associate Professor Chrystalina Antoniades (Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences) for an in-depth look at the Circle of Willis, the name given to the arterial ring at the base of the brain, in recognition of the man renowned for its original description.

Professor Alastair Compston- An insight into the writings of Willis

Professor Zoltán Molnár talks to Professor Emeritus of Neurology Alastair Compston FRS about the deeply influential texts written by the Founder of Neurology Thomas Willis four centuries ago.

Professor Kevin Talbot - Exploring the medical cases of Thomas Willis

Professor Zoltán Molnár talks to Professor Kevin Talbot (Head of Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences) about Willis's insights into the patients he encountered and his descriptions of their symptoms that could arguably be used for teaching today.

Professor Miloš Judaš - What we learn from translating the works of Willis

Professor Zoltán Molnár talks to Professor Miloš Judaš for a unique comparison of Thomas Willis's profound discoveries and medical terminology in his original Latin tongue and the first English translations.

Dr Petra Hofmann - The Willis Legacy in St John's College Library

Professor Zoltán Molnár and St John's College Librarian Dr Petra Hofmann explore the extraordinary collection of Thomas Willis's books and rare letters held by the library 400 years after his birth.

Iain Pears - An insight into Willis era Oxford through writing "An Instance of the Fingerpost"

Professor Zoltán Molnár talks to author and historian Iain Pears to better understand "a time and place of great intellectual, religious, scientific and political ferment" in which Thomas Willis lived and worked.

Further Information on Thomas Willis

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