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.
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.
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.
Later this week, to mark Willis's birthday itself on Wednesday 27 January, we will hear from renowned Willis expert and author of the soon to be published definitive bio-bibliography on Thomas Willis, Professor Alastair Compston.
Further Information on Thomas Willis
- Thomas Willis: 400th anniversary lecture by Zoltán Molnár at the NeurotechEU opening
- Thomas Willis (1621-1675) 400th Anniversary Lecture, Anatomical Society Meeting 2021 - Zoltán Molnár
- Molnár, Zoltán, "Thomas Willis (1621-1675), the Founder of Clinical Neuroscience", Nature Review Neuroscience 5:4 (2004), 329-35
- Thomas Willis (1621 - 1675) Celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the Founder of Neurology online exhibition (see under current exhibitions, St John's College)