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Hippocampus Minor and Man's Place in Nature: A Case Study in the Social Construction of Neuroanatomy

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Hippocampus Minor and Man's Place in Nature: A Case Study in the Social Construction of Neuroanatomy

C G Gross. Hippocampus.

Abstract

In mid-19th century Britain the possibility of evolution and particularly the evolution of man from apes was vigorously contested. Among the leading antievolutionists was the celebrated anatomist and paleontologist Richard Owen and among the leading defenders of evolution was Thomas Henry Huxley. The central dispute between them on human evolution was whether or not man's brain was fundamentally unique in having a hippocampus minor (known today as the calcar avis), a posterior horn in the lateral ventricle, and a posterior lobe. The author considers the background of this controversy, the origin and fate of the term hippocampus minor, why this structure became central to the question of human evolution, and how Huxley used it to support both Darwinism and the political ascendancy of Darwinians. The use of ventricular structures to distinguish humans from other animals appears to reflect an importance given to the ventricles that stretches back to ancient Greek medicine. This account illustrates both the extraordinary persistence of ideas in biology and the role of the political and social matrix in the study of the brain.

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