Jan Evangelista Purkyne: Czech Scientist and Patriot, 1787-1869

Jan Evangelista Purkyne: Czech Scientist and Patriot, 1787-1869

Jan Evangelista Purkyne: Czech Scientist and Patriot, 1787-1869

Jan Evangelista Purkyne: Czech Scientist and Patriot, 1787-1869

Excerpt

Surprisingly little has been published about the life of Jan Evangelista Purkyne, in comparison to that which has been written about other scientists of comparable stature. He had a phenomenal range of interests, as is demonstrated by the association of his name with various structures in anatomy, with visual and other physiologic phenomena and with numerous instruments he devised for his experimental studies. Although the name "Purkinje" is familiar to every student of physiology and medicine, because of its association with certain cells, fibers, vesicle, network, figure, image phenomena, kinesimeter, kinematography, etc., these listings give only a fragmentary idea of the scope and importance of his scientific contributions.

This neglect of Purkyne by English and European authors was probably due, in part at least, to the fact that so many of his accomplishments were in advance of his time and hence were not properly appreciated by his contemporaries, and also in part because his work was sometimes purposely ignored by his confreres in Germany. This was because he was a foreigner, a Czech, who did not remain in Breslau to reap the praise and glory usually accorded to the aging Professor Geheimrat, but instead returned to his native land to spend the last twenty years of his life. Even in Prague, despite his prominence and his great literary activity and public service which continued until his death at the age of eighty-two, in 1869, there was surprisingly little study of his life, character, and achievements. This was due to the fact that the Hapsburg regime had so thoroughly Germanized Bohemia, that little recognition was accorded to anyone still claiming a Czech origin. After, the First World War and the emergence of Czechoslovakia as a sovereign state, numerous Czech authors explored various facets of his activities, and published considerable material on this remarkable man. By 1937, the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his birth, the number of publications on Purkyne had reached a high point. The medical and scientific fraternity in Czechoslovakia attempted to make amends for previous neglect of their illustrious native son. Since then, additional studies have appeared at intervals, and no doubt will continue to appear as new material becomes available. Original notes and letters are still being unearthed. Most are in the Czech language which has remained unavailable to the average reader until I undertook to translate much of this original material for this book.

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