Norman Geschwind can be considered the father of modern behavioral neurology in America. He was mentor to the cadre of behavioral neurologists who would shape the subspecialty for the 20th and early 21st centuries.
Dr. Geschwind is best known for his exploration of behavioral neurology through disconnection models based on lesion analysis.
Early Life Edit
Norman Geschwind was born on January 8th, 1926 in New York City, New York. He was a student at Boy's High School in Brooklyn, New York. He matriculated into Harvard University in 1942, initially planning to study mathematics. His education was interrupted when drafted into the Army that same year, 1942. After serving for two years, he returned to Harvard University in 1944. Geschwind changed to the Department of Social Relations and studied a combination of social/personality psychology and cultural anthropology.
Medical Education and Training Edit
Geschwind attended Harvard Medical School, intending to become a psychiatrist. His emphasis began to shift after studying neuroanatomy with Dr. Marcus Singer, at which time he began to develop an interest in aphasia and epilepsy. He graduated medical school in 1951. Dr. Geschwind continued his studies at London’s National Hospital as a Mosley Travelling Fellow from 1952 to 1953, then as a United States Public Health Service fellow from 1953 to 1955. He studied with Sir Charles Symonds who taught the importance of neurologic mechanisms to studying disorders.
In 1955, Dr. Geschwind became neurology chief resident at the famous Boston City Hospital and served under Dr. Derek Denny-Brown. From 1956 to 1958 he was a research fellow studying muscle disease at the MIT Department of Biology.
Norman Geschwind joined the Neurology Department of the Boston Veterans Administration Hospital in 1958, where he met Dr. Fred Quadfasel, chief of neurology for the department. At this time, his clinical interest in aphasia developed into his life-long study of the neurological basis of language and higher cognitive functions. Dr. Quadfasel encouraged Geschwind to study classic texts of neurology from the 19th and early 20th century, exposing him to classic localizationist theory.
Dr. Geschwind became Chief of Neurology at the Boston VA Hospital in 1962, and an Associate Professor in Neurology at Boston University. Geschwind with Edith Kaplan established in the early 1960s at the Boston VA the Boston University Aphasia Research Center. The Aphasia Research Center would go on to become a pioneer in interdisciplinary aphasia research. Geschwind ended his tenure as chief of neurology at the VA in 1966 and became Chair of the Department of Neurology at Boston University for 1966-68.
In 1969, Norman Geschwind was chosen as Harvard Medical School’s James Jackson Putnam Professor of Neurology, a position previously held his old mentor, Derek Denny-Brown. At Harvard he continued to research aphasia and epilepsy, as well as dyslexias, the neuroanatomy of cerebral lateral asymmetries, and other areas of neurological dysfunction. Norman Geschwind was noted for his inspirational teaching of medical students, residents, and fellows. He also supported an interdisciplinary approach to research. He significantly shaped the neurological climate in the US and Europe during his life, an influence which lives on in his students.
Dr. Geschwind is credited with coining the term behavioral neurology in the 1970s to describe the corpus of course material in the area of higher cortical functions starting to be presented at American Academy of Neurology meetings.
In later years, Geschwind worked with a number of neurologists to whose future research careers in behavioral neurology he gave significant direction; among these were Kenneth Heilman, Elliott Ross, and David N. Caplan. These people, as well as those who worked with Geschwind in his other areas of interest – epilepsy, neuroanatomy, and developmental dyslexia, primarily – have carried on in the tradition he invigorated, enriching and arguing with his basic approach to the study of behavior in a neurological context. Beyond his inspired teaching of medical students and training of residents and fellows, he actively encouraged and supported interdisciplinary research.
Geschwind would remain at Harvard Medical School until his premature death on November 4th, 1984.
Dr. Norman Geschwind left behind a rich legacy in the form of his body of work, approach to behavioral/cognitive disorders, and trainees. Within neurology, several of these neurologists went on to train other neurologists in behavioral neurology including D. Frank Benson, Antonio Damasio, Kenneth Heilman, and Elliott Ross.
The Norman Geschwind Award in Behavioral Neurology is presented through the American Academy of Neurology and the Society for Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology yearly in honor of Dr. Geschwind. The Norman Geschwind-Rodin Prize is a Swedish award for research in dyslexia.
His former trainees and colleagues collaborated on a book in memoriam of Norman Geschwind.
- Steven C. Schachter, Orrin Devinsky; Behavioral Neurology and the Legacy of Norman Geschwind; Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 1st edition (January 15, 1997).
- History of the Behavioral Neurology Society
- Norman Geschwind short online bio
- Goodglass H. Norman Geschwind (1926-1984). Cortex. 1986 Mar;22(1):7-10.