The emergence of neurology as a separate specialty from internal medicine and psychiatry took several decades, starting at the end of the nineteenth century. This can be adequately reconstructed by focusing on the establishment of specialized journals, societies, university chairs, the invention and application of specific instruments, medical practices, and certainly also the publication of pivotal textbooks in the field. Particularly around 1900, the German-speaking countries played an integral role in this process. In this article, one aspect is extensively explored, notably the publication (in the twentieth century) of three comprehensive and influential multivolume and multiauthor handbooks entirely devoted to neurology. All available volumes of Max Lewandowsky's Handbuch der Neurologie (1910–1914) and the Handbuch der Neurologie (1935–1937) of Oswald Bumke and Otfrid Foerster were analyzed. The handbooks were then compared with Pierre Vinken's and George Bruyn's Handbook of Clinical Neurology (1968–2002).
Over the span of nearly a century these publications became ever more comprehensive and developed into a global, encompassing project as is reflected in the increasing number of foreign authors. Whereas the first two handbooks were published mainly in German, “Vinken & Bruyn” was eventually published entirely in English, indicating the general changes in the scientific language of neurology after World War II. Distinctions include the uniformity of the series, manner of editorial involvement, thematic comprehensiveness, inclusion of volume editors in “Vinken & Bruyn,” and the provision of index volumes. The increasing use of authorities in various neurological subspecialties is an important factor by which these handbooks contrast with many compact neurological textbooks that were available at the time.
For historiographical purposes, the three neurological handbooks considered here were important sources for the general study of the history of medicine and science and the history of neurology in particular. Moreover, they served as important catalyzers of the emergence of neurology as a new clinical specialty during the first decades of the twentieth century.