Bolk, Lodewijk Usually Called Louis

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Bolk, Lodewijk Usually Called Louis

(b. Overschie, the Netherlands, 10 December 1866; d. Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 17 June 1930)


Bolk’s parents wanted him to study for the ministry, but he preferred to attend medical school, which they could not afford. In 1888 he managed, with financial aid, to matriculate as a medical student at Amsterdam University, where he became an assistant to Georg Ruge, professor of human anatomy, after he had passed his final medical examination in October 1896. When Ruge retired, Bolk was appointed his successor in February 1898, because he had proved himself an exponent of functional, as against descriptive, anatomy.

In the anatomical periodical Petrus Camper, which Bolk and Winkler started in 1900, Bolk published on the comparative anatomy of the cerebellum and its nerves. The localization of muscle coordination in the cerebellum proved to have clinical implications. Leiden University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1902, but he refused the professorship of anatomy there—Amsterdam University had started to build a new anatomical institute adapted to his needs and ideas.

The removal of an old graveyard near the institute induced Bolk to study human skulls and teeth. His research dealt with the ontogeny of the teeth, left-handedness and right-handedness, the length of the body in different races (Nordic and Alpine in the Netherlands), color of the eyes and hair, endocrinology, and general ontogeny.

Bolk was knighted (1918) while rector magnificus of Amsterdam University. Here, for the first time, he put forward his ideas of “fetalization.” The theory was fully expounded during the Anatomical Congress in Freiburg (1926) and was published as “Das Problem der Menschwerdung.” It considers man to be a neotenic ape and states that the retention of many fetal characters in the adult is caused by the endocrine glands. The theory indicates that, in a way, apes are more specialized from an evolutionary point of view than man is.

On the occasion of his silver jubilee as professor, Bolk was made a Commander in the Order of Orange-Nassau, and in 1927 he received the Swedish Retzius Medal for his work on the cerebellum. At the time of his death all professors of anatomy in the Netherlands and the East Indies had been his pupils.


I. Original Works. For a nearly complete list of Bolk’s 179 publications, see A.J.P. Van Den Broek, “Louis Bolk,” in Gegenbaurs morphologisches Jahrbuch, 65 (1931), 497–516. Additional papers are nos, 1, 3, 11, 12, 21, 24, 44, 47, and 67 in the list in A. J. Van Bork-Feltkamp, “Anthropological Research in the Netherlands,” in Verhandelingen van de Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, afdeling Natuurkunde, 37 (1938), 1–166, list on 137–139. Bolk’s earlier works include papers on the problems of segmental anatomy, in Morphologisches Jahrbuch (1894–1900); “Das Cerebellum der Säugetiere,” in Petrus Camper, 3 and 4 , also published separately (1906); and Odontologische Studien, 2 vols. (1913–1914). The “fetalization theory” is in Hersenen en Cultuur (1918; 3rd ed., 1932); “The Part Played by the Endocrine Glands in the Evolution of Man,” in The Lancer (10 September 1921); and “Das Problem der Menschwerdung,” in 25sten Versammlung der anatomischen Gesellschaft in Freiburg (Jena, 1926). A posthumous work is his contribution to Handbuch der vergleichenden Anatomie der Wirbeltiere (Berlin-Vienna, 1931).

II. Secondary Literature. The best biography is that of A. J. P. Van Den Broek (see above). Additional data are in Van Bork-Feltcamp (see above). Obituaries are C. U. Ariëns Kappers, in Psychologische en Neurologtische Bladen, 4 (1930), 1–6; J. A. J. Barge, in Jaarboek van de Maatschappy de Nederlandsche Letterkunde (1935–1936); Brouwer, Verslagen der Koninklijke Nederlandsche Akademie van Wetenschappen, 6 (1930), Gedenkboek Universiteit van Amsterdam (Amsterdam, 1932), pp. 188. 554; W. A. Mijsberg, in Geneeskundig Tijdschrift voor Nederlandsch-Indië, 2 (1930), 737–738; C. A. J. Quant, in The Lancet (12 July 1930), 76; A. J. P. Van Den Broek, in Nederlandsch Tijdschrift voor Genesskunde (1930); and F. A. F. C. Went, “In Memoriam Lodewijk Bolk,” in Verslogen der Koninklijke Nederlandsche Akademie ran Wetenschappen, 39 (1930), 1–7.

H. Engel

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Bolk, Lodewijk Usually Called Louis

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