Broca, Paul

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Broca, Paul



Paul Broca (1824–1880) was a French surgeon who made an important contribution to the understanding of the etiology of aphasia.

He was born to a Protestant family in the small township of Sainte-Foy-la-Grande in the Dordogne. His father was an army surgeon and had served at Waterloo. As a schoolboy and adolescent, Broca showed exceptional abilities as a linguist, a musician, an artist, and a poet. Nevertheless, he chose to go into medicine and at 17 began his studies at the Hôtel Dieu in Paris. His strained finances forced him for a time to take a part-time job as a tutor, work he disliked so much that he threatened to emigrate to America. However, by the time he was 24 he was a prosector, and at the age of 29 a chirurgien des hôpitaux, an agrégé, and a founder-member of the Société d’Anthropologie. This society had been established not without difficulty, since official sanction was held up by the apparently sinister connotations of the term “anthropology.”

Broca’s interest in craniology was initially aroused when he participated in an investigation of human remains in the ancient Cordeliers cemetery. Then, on April 4, 1861, at a meeting of the Société d’Anthropologie, he heard a carefully prepared paper by Ernest Auburtin to the effect that lesions of the frontal lobes of the brain were associated with “alalia,” or impairment of speech. Auburtin was an enthusiastic follower of Franz Joseph Gall, and, even more, of Johann Spurzheim, in associating the faculty of language with the most forward segments of the brain. He cited a number of instances of alalia, including Adrien Cullerier’s unusual case of an attempted suicide in which a shattered frontal bone exposed the subjacent brain: the patient could talk, but whenever the frontal lobe was lightly pressed with a spatula, speech was temporarily arrested.

Broca heard Auburtin’s paper with particular interest: an old hemiplegic and speechless mental defective had just come under his surgical care. After the meeting, Broca took Auburtin to the hospital for a joint consultation. When the patient died, a day or so later, an autopsy revealed a superficial lesion in the left frontal lobe. A few weeks later, a similar case occurred in Broca’s service, and once again post-mortem inspection of the brain revealed a lesion in the same place.

The demonstration of these two specimens created a sensation, and Broca’s fame in this field soon overshadowed that of Auburtin. From many sides came both corroborative comments and objections. Pierre Gratiolet raised the question of negative cases, where unmistakable frontal lesions had not produced speechlessness. He challenged Broca also on the grounds that if a faculty of speech resides in the frontal lobes, monkeys— which are endowed with such lobes—should be able to speak. At first Broca protested mildly that he had no wish to participate in any debate about the location of centers for speech but had only called attention to two pathological specimens that chance had brought his way and that illustrated a rare and curious fact. He abandoned this cautious attitude, however, as his case material grew and as other observers, with their evidence and their prejudices, took sides on the issue.

Broca coined the term “aphemia” to denote the type of speech loss that he was observing. In the beginning of his studies, he thought that this speech loss was caused by a bifrontal lesion of a bifrontal speech center; subsequently, as his evidence accumulated, he came to realize that a unilateral lesion sufficed to cause speech loss and that it was the left cerebral hemisphere that was crucial. Sir David Ferrier suggested that the foot of the third left frontal convolution—the gyrus concerned—be named Broca’s area. It was almost against his will that Broca found himself the protagonist of cerebral localization and a pioneer in the philosophy of language.

Broca was a busy and successful surgeon whose principal outside interests were ethnological. He did research in craniometry and steadily amassed a collection of skulls. After the Franco–Prussian war, he founded the department of anthropology at the University of Paris as well as an anthropological journal, the Revue d’anthropologie—all this despite the opposition of the clerical party, which disapproved of exhuming human remains and regarded Broca and his colleagues as Malthusians, atheists, and materialists. He wrote five volumes to prove that with increased breadth of the head the quality of the brain improved—and that the French had particularly broad heads!

When in 1880 the Republic decided to fortify the Senate by appointing a number of distinguished men of science and letters, Broca was included.

Macdonald Critchley

[For the historical context of Broca’s work, see the biography ofFlourens; for discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, seeMental disorders, article onOrganic aspects; Nervous system; and the biography ofLashley.]


1855 Propriétés et fonctions de la moelle épinière: Rapport sur quelques expériences de M. Brown-Séquard. Paris: Bonaventure.

1856 Des anévrysmes et de leur traitement. Paris: Labé.

1871–1888 Mémoires d’anthropologie de Paul Broca. 5 vols. Paris: Reinwald.

1886 Paul Broca; Correspondence: 1841–1857. 2 vols. Paris: Schmidt.

1888 Mémoires sur le cerveau de I’homme et des primates. Paris: Reinwald.


Achard, Charles 1924 Éloge de Paul Broca. Académie de Médecine Bulletin 3d Series 92:1347–1366.

Critchley, Macdonald 1964 Dax’s Law. International Journal of Neurology 4:199–206.

Critchley, Macdonald 1964 La controverse de Dax et Broca. Revue neurologique 110:553–557.

Genty, Maurice 1935 Paul Broca: 1824–1880. Volume 9, pages 209–224 in Les biographies médicales. Paris: Baillière.

Pozzi, Samuel (1880) 1961 Bibliographie de Paul Broca. Volume 14, pages 60–86 in Revue d’histoire des sciences et de leurs applications. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. → First published in Revue d’anthropologie.

Broca, Pierre Paul

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Broca, Pierre Paul

(b. Sainte Foy-la-Grande, near Bordeaux, France, 28 June 1824; d. Paris, France, 8 July 1880)

medicine, anthropology.

Broca was the son of a Huguenot doctor, Benjamin Broca; his mother was the daughter of a Protestant preacher. At the local college he received a bachelier ès lettres and diplomas in mathematics and physical sciences. He entered the University of Paris medical school in 1841, and in an unusually short time became externe (1843), interne (1844), and prosector of anatomy (1848); he received the M.D. degree in 1849.

Broca’s graduate studies were in pathology, anatomy, and surgery, and in 1853 he became assistant professor at the Faculty of Medicine and surgeon of the Central Bureau. He was an active figure in the Anatomical Society of Paris and in the Society of Surgery. His interests later turned to anthropology, and he was one of the most outstanding pioneers of the new discipline. During this period he held important posts in the hospitals of Paris, finally serving as surgeon to the Necker Hospital. In 1867 Broca was elected to the chair of pathologie externe at the Faculty of Medicine, and the following year he became professor of clinical surgery. He was elected a life member of the French Senate, representing science, six months before he died. He also received many honors in the medical and scientific world, and at his death was vice-president of the French Academy of Medicine.

Broca’s versatility was noteworthy and his knowledge wide; his bibliography reveals the breadth of his scientific and clinical work. He made important contributions to anatomy, pathology, surgery, cerebral function, and other areas of medicine, and to anthropology. He showed deep interest in all his work and approached each problem with enthusiasm and thoroughness. He married the daughter of a Paris physician named Lugol.

Broca published several minor papers on anatomy, as well as La splanchnologie, a volume of the Atlas d’anatomie descriptive. During the twenty years or so after his graduation, he wrote extensively on pathology, including a two-volume work on tumors, Traité des tumeurs. These studies were closely associated with his contributions to surgery, which also appeared in his publications of this period; a book on strangulated hernia (1853) and one on aneurysm (1856) demonstrated his theoretical and practical knowledge of surgery.

Broca is, however, better known for his role in the discovery of cortical localization in the brain. This concept had begun with the phrenologists earlier in the century; but the majority of physicians, following Pierre Flourens, denied it. In a famous discussion in Paris in 1861, Broca was able to provide the essential link in the argument favoring the localization of speech function in the left inferior frontal gyrus (since known as Broca’s convolution); an aphasic patient was found to have a lesion there. Much later it was shown that the lesion was not so precisely located as Broca had claimed, but his evidence was nevertheless a significant step toward proving that the cerebral hemisphere has localized areas of function, although precise parcelation is no longer accepted. He published extensively on cerebral localization and on normal, comparative, and pathological anatomy of the brain.

Broca’s equally important labors were in anthropology, which field he helped to create. In 1847 he served on a commission to report on excavations in the cemetery of the Celestins, and this led him to study craniology and ethnology. These subjects suited him best, for they allowed him to use his anatomical and mathematical skills as well as his diversified knowledge; and his synthetic abilities were necessary to coordinate the wide range of data presented. He was mainly responsible for the formation of the Société d’Anthropologie de Paris in 1859, of the Revue d’anthropologie in 1872, and of the École d’Anthropologie in 1876. At this time anthropology was considered by both church and government to be sinister and subversive, but Broca surmounted all opposition and eventually established it securely. He invented at least twenty-seven instruments for the more accurate study of craniology, and he helped to standardize methods. Between 1850 and his death he published 223 papers and monographs on general anthropology, ethnology, physical anthropology, and other aspects of the field.


I. Original Works. S. Pozzi compiled a bibliography of Broca’s writings according to subject (see below); this has been reprinted by Huard (see below). In addition, Mémoires sur le cerveau de l’homme et des primates, S. Pozzi, ed. (Paris, 1888), contains a wide selection of his papers. Broca’s books are La splanchnologie (Paris, 1850–1866), Vol. III of Broca, C. Bonamy, E. Beau, Atlas d’anatomie descriptive du corps humain (Paris, 1844–1866); De l’étranglement dans les hernies abdominales et des affections qui peuvent le simuler (Paris, 1853; 2nd ed., 1856); Des anévrismes et de leur traitement (Paris, 1856); and Traité des tumeurs, 2 vols. (Paris, 1866–1869).

II. Secondary Literature. There is an obituary of Broca in The Lancet (1880), 2 , 153–154. Articles on Broca (listed chronologically) include J. R. C., “Paul Broca of Paris,” in Edinburgh Medical Journal, 26 (1880), 186–192; “Paul Broca, Honorary Member,” in Journal of the Anthropological Institute (London), 10 (1880–1881), 242–261; S. Pozzi, “Biographie-bibliographie,” in Revue Scientifique, 3rd ser., 2 (1881), 2–12; Popular Science Monthly, 20 (1881–1882), 261–266; R. Fletcher, “Paul Broca and the French School of Anthropology,” 15 April 1882, in Saturday Lectures No. 6 (Washington, D.C., 1882), and in Fletcher’s Miscellaneous Papers 1882–1913 (Washington, D.C.); S. Zaborowski, “La psychologie et les travaux de M. Broca,” in Revue internationale des sciences biologiques, 10 (1882), 141–159; M. Genty, “Broca (Paul) (1824–1880),” in Les biographies médicales, 9 (1935), 209–224, with portraits and references to iconography; K. Goldstein, “Pierre Paul Broca (1824–1880),” in W. Haymaker, ed., Founders of Newurology (Springfield, III., 1953), pp. 259–263; and P. Huard, “Paul Broca (1824–1880),” in Revue d’histoire des sciences, 14 (1961), 47–86, which contains references to most of the secondary material on Broca and the Pozzi bibliography of 1881.

Edwin Clarke

Broca, Pierre Paul

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Pierre Paul Broca

French medical doctor and anthropologist known for his role in the discovery of specialized functions in different areas of the brain.

Pierre Paul Broca, the son of a Huguenot doctor, was born near Bordeaux, France, in 1824. After studying mathematics and physical science at the local university, he entered medical school at the University of Paris in 1841. He received his M.D. in 1849. Though trained as a pathologist, anatomist, and surgeon, Broca's interests were not limited to the medical profession. His versatility and tireless dedication to science permitted him to make significant contributions to other fields, most notably to anthropology.

The application of his expertise in anatomy outside the field of medicine began in 1847 as a member of a commission charged with reporting on archaeological excavations of a cemetery. The project permitted Broca to combine his anatomical and mathematical skills with his interests in anthropology.

The discovery in 1856 of Neanderthal Man once again drew Broca into anthropology. Controversy surrounded the interpretation of Neanderthal. It was clearly a human skull, but more primitive and apelike than a modern skull and the soil stratum in which it was found indicated a very early date. Neanderthal's implications for evolutionary theory demanded thorough examination of the evidence to determine decisively whether it was simply a congenitally deformed Homo sapiens or a primitive human form. Both as an early supporter of Charles Darwin and as an expert in human anatomy, Broca supported the latter view. Broca's view eventually prevailed, though not until the discovery of the much more primitive Java Man (then known as Pithecanthropus, but later Homo erectus ).

Broca is best known for his role in the discovery of specialized functions in different areas of the brain . In 1861, he was able to show, using post-mortem analysis of patients who had lost the ability to speak, that such loss was associated with damage to a specific area of the brain. The area, located toward the front of the brain's left hemisphere, became known as Broca's convolution. Aside from its importance to the understanding of human physiology, Broca's findings addressed questions concerning the evolution of language.

All animals living in groups communicate with one another. Non-human primates have the most complex communication system other than human language. They use a wide range of gestures, facial expressions, postures, and vocalizations, but are limited in the variety of expressions and are unable to generate new signals under changing circumstances. Humans alone possess the capacity for language rather than relying on a body language vocabulary. Language permits humans to generate an infinite number of messages and ultimately allows the transmission of informationthe learned and shared patterns of behavior characteristic of human social groups, which anthropologists call culturefrom generation to generation. The development of language spurred human evolution by permitting new ways of social interaction, organization, and thought.

Given the importance assigned to human speech in human evolution, scientists began to look for the physical preconditions of speech. The fact that apes have the minimal parts necessary for speech indicated that the shape and arrangement of the vocal apparatus was insufficient for the development of speech. The vocalizations produced by other animals are involuntary and incapable of conscious alteration. However, human speech requires codifying thought and transmitting it in patterned strings of sound. The area of the brain isolated by Broca sends the code to another part of the brain that controls the muscles of the face, jaw, tongue, palate, and larynx, setting the speech apparatus in motion. This area and a companion area that controls the understanding of language, known as Wernicke's area, are detectable in early fossil skulls of the genus Homo. The brain of Homo was evolving toward the use of language, although the vocal chamber was still inadequate to articulate speech. Broca discovered one piece in the puzzle of human communication and speech, which permits the transmission of culture.

Equally important, Broca contributed to the development of physical anthropology, one of the four sub-fields of anthropology. Craniology, the scientific measurement of the skull, was a major focus of physical anthropology during this period. Mistakenly considering contemporary human groups as if they were living fossils, anthropologists became interested in the nature of human variability and attempted to explain the varying levels of technological development observed worldwide by looking for a correspondence between cultural level and physical characteristics. Broca furthered these studies by inventing at least twenty-seven instruments for making measurements of the human body, and by developing standardized techniques of measurement.

Broca's many contributions to anthropology helped to establish its firm scientific foundation at a time when the study of nature was considered a somewhat sinister science.