Jean-Martin Charcot was a pioneer in the field of neurology and an inspiration to the developing field of psychology. He worked at the Salpetrière hospital for 33 years in the 19th century where one of his students was Sigmund Freud. He was most famous for his work on hysteria and hypnosis and established a neurology clinic at the hospital where he ran his infamous ‘leçons du mardi matin’ which were mostly spectacular displays with hypnotised women.
Although his theories and conclusions were later rejected, at the time he believed that hysteria was a hereditary and progressive physical condition that could be induced through trauma. His techniques for inducing hysteria in female patients using hypnotism, magnetism, and electricity were both theatrical and disturbing, not to mention very popular - both within the medical community as well as with the general public.
His theories about hysteria were wrong, but he is widely credited with being the first to understand the potential for the use of hypnotism in medical diagnosis. He is also remembered for re-naming Tourette’s syndrome after his student and fellow neurologist George Gilles de la Tourette who had originally called it “la maladie des tics.”
The building where his clinics were held no longer survives, but his personal library was donated to the hospital by his son after his death. It sits rather awkwardly in a 1960s modernist structure and is surrounded by a micro-museum. Anybody can visit this library, and helpful staff will assist those with any questions. Be aware that it remains a working library and there may be medical students present looking for a quiet place to study.
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