Duchenne de Boulogne  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne (de Boulogne) (born September 17, 1806 in Boulogne-sur-Mer; died September 15, 1875 in Paris) was a French neurologist who revived Galvani's research and greatly advanced the science of electrophysiology. The era of modern neurology progressed from Duchenne's understanding of the conductivity of neural pathways, his revelations of the effect of lesions on these structures and his diagnostic innovations including deep tissue biopsy, nerve conduction tests (NCS), and clinical photography.

The biographer Joseph Collins wrote of Duchenne that he found neurology, "a sprawling infant of unknown parentage which he succored to a lusty youth" and although it is Jean-Martin Charcot who many medical historians hold as the father of modern neurology, Charcot owed much to Duchennne, acknowledging him as, "mon maître." Duchenne's greatest contributions were made in the myopathies that immortalize his name, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Duchenne-Aran spinal muscular atrophy, Duchenne-Erb paralysis, Duchenne's disease (Tabes dorsalis), and Duchenne's paralysis (Progressive bulbar palsy). He was the first clinician to practise muscle biopsy, the harvesting of in vivo tissue samples with an invention he called, "l'emporte-pièce" (Duchenne's trocar). In 1855 he established the science of electrotherapy with a textbook titled, De l'electrisation localisée et de son application à la physiologie, à la pathologie et à la thérapeutique. A companion atlas to this work titled, Album de photographies pathologiques, was the first neurology text illustrated by photographs. His monograph, Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine –also illustrated prominently by Duchenne's photographs–was the first study on the physiology of emotion and was seminal to Darwin's later work.

Duchenne's contemporaries appended "de Boulogne" to his name to avoid confusion with the like-sounding name of Edouard Adolphe Duchesne (1804–1869), a popular society physician.

Duchenne's Influence

[[File:Expression of the Emotions Figure 20.png|thumb|250px|upright|right|Figure 20 from Charles Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). Caption reads "FIG. 20.—Terror, from a photograph by Dr. Duchenne"]]

[[File:Expression of the Emotions Plate III.png|thumb|250px|upright|right|Plate III from Charles Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. From Chapter VIII: Joy—High spirits—Love—Tender feelings—Devotion]]

Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, written, in part, as a refutation of Sir Charles Bell's religiously doctrinaire physiognomy, was published in 1872. This book further elaborated on Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, visualising the human body as a pathway for genetically determined expressions deriving from purposeful animal actions. Darwin's text carried illustrations drawn from Duchenne's photographs. It is noteworthy, also, that Darwin lent his copy of Duchenne's book to the British psychiatrist James Crichton-Browne in 1869, that Crichton-Browne seems to have lost the book for a year or so (in the West Riding lunatic asylum in Wakefield, Yorkshire) and that Crichton-Browne invited Sir David Ferrier to his asylum laboratory in 1872 to undertake experiments involving the electrical stimulation of motor centres in the brain.

Duchenne's most famous student was Jean-Martin Charcot, who became director of the insane asylum at Salpêtrière during 1862. He adopted Duchenne's procedure of photographic experiments and also believed that it was possible to attain the "truth" through direct observation. He even named an examination room at the asylum after his teacher. Like Duchenne, Charcot sought to chart the gestures and expressions of his patients, believing them to be subject to absolute, mechanistic laws. However, unlike Duchenne, who restricted his experiments to the realm of the sane, Charcot was interested almost exclusively in photographing the expressions of traumatized patients. He is also known for enabling the public to bear witness to these passions, establishing his renowned weekly "theatre of the passions" for the high society of the day to witness the expressions of the insane. Sigmund Freud, who attended Charcot's clinical demonstrations, constructed his life-work, psychoanalysis, through a demolition of Charcot's neurological theory of hysteria.

During 1981, a modern audience was exposed to Duchenne's The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy when the book and its photographs were revealed on screen in the film version of John Fowles's novel, The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969). There, the protagonist, a young scientist, who "like most men of his time, was still faintly under the influence of the Lavater's Physiognomy," is intent on interpreting an alienated woman's true character from her expressions.

Perhaps we can best understand Duchenne's contribution to art and science by Robert Sobieszek's concluding words to his comprehensive chapter on Duchenne, in his book Ghost in the Shell<ref>The book Ghost in the Shell: Photography and the Human Soul, 1850-2000, by Robert A. Sobieszek, was published in 1999 and accompanied the exhibition of the same name which took place in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.</ref> where he writes:

Duchenne's ultimate legacy may be that he set the stage, as it were, for Charcot's visual theater of the passions and defined the essential dramaturgy of all the visual theaters, both scientific and artistic, that have since been conceived in the attempt to picture our psyches. … In the end, Duchenne's Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine and the photographic stills from its experimental theater of electroshock excitations established the modern field on which the struggle to depict and thus discern the ever-elusive meanings of our coded faces continues even now to be waged. --Ghost in the Shell, 2003, MIT Press, 79, Sobieszek</ref>

Other works by Duchenne


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