Glaser, Johann Heinrich

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Glaser, Johann Heinrich

(b. Basel, Switzerland, 6 October 1629; d. Basel, 5 February 1679)

anatomy, botany, surgery.

Glaser’s father had acquired a sound reputation as a painter and engraver in Basel, and it was there that his son began his studies. By 1645 he seemed committed to philosophy, but in 1648 he went to Geneva, where he studied medicine (he later practiced at Heidelberg). Afterward Glaser settled at Paris, where he became interested in the work of the botanists at the Museum d’Histoire Naturelle. Following the resignation of his close friend, Felix Platter, he was considered for the chair of physics at the University of Basel. The chair went to someone else, however, and Glaser turned decisively to medicine.

His thesis, De dolore colico, submitted in July 1650, attracted the attention of the medical world, since in it Glaser considered anatomical and morphological data, as well as physiological. He returned to Basel and, in 1661, presented for his doctorate a classical dissertation, Disputatio de rheumatismo. In 1662 he began a medical practice that soon brought him international fame, and in 1665 he became full professor of Greek. Two years later, Glaser achieved his goal of being named professor of anatomy and botany at the Faculté de Médecine at Basel. In order to be prepared for this important post, he had published, in collaboration with J. J. Spörlin, the memoir Positiones de respiratione ex Hippocrate et Galeno depromptae (1661) and his Theses opticae (1664). In 1668 Glaser was named doctor-in-chief of the large municipal hospital at Basel, the crowning achievement of his career. He died of a fever contracted while caring for a patient.

Even more as a teacher than as a doctor, Glaser achieved a great reputation. The fame of the Basel hospital and of its doctors, many of whom had been his pupils, spread rapidly. Glaser particularly owed his fame to his clinical teaching and to the novelty of his methods. He introduced the application of theory through clinical teaching, spending hours with students at the bedsides of patients. Glaser was one of the first physicians to introduce hospital rounds, and many of his pupils later adopted this new conception of clinical teaching. He also was an innovator in surgery.

At Basel, Glaser held public dissections followed by surgical demonstrations. With his students he regularly examined the corpses of patients who had died in his hospital. He noted all his observations in memoranda that show how advanced he was in comparison with his colleagues. Glaser owes his lasting fame, however, to his work on the brain, the nerves, and the bones of the head. Tractatus de cerebro (1680) was a compilation of the numerous original observations that he had accumulated on the cerebral system. It is a classic that treats the anatomy, both normal and pathological, and the physiology of the central nervous system.

In memory of Glaser the fissure of the temporal bone through which the tympanic cords pass is known as the Glaserian petrotympanic fissure. Glaser was one of the first to carry out frequent dissections of animals, and he thereby discovered many anatomical details before they were found in man. Undoubtedly he was a great practitioner and certainly a master surgeon of his time.


I. Original Works. Glaser’s writings include De summo hominis bono morale, his diss. in philosophy (Basel, 1648); De dolore colico, his diss. in medicine (Paris, 1650); Disputatio de rheumatismo, his doctoral diss. (Basel, 1661); Positiones de respiratione ex Hippocrate et Galeno depromptae, written with J. J. Spörlin (Basel, 1661); Theses opticae (Basel, 1664); and Tractatus de cerebro (Basel, 1680).

II. Secondary Literature. Works on Glaser are H. Buess, Recherches, découvertes et inventions de médecins suisses, E. Kaech, trans. (Basel, 1946); A. Burckhardt, Geschichte des medizinischen Fakultät zu Basel (Basel, 1917); F. Husner, Verzeichnis der Basler medizinischen Universitätsschriften von 1575–1829 (Basel, 1942); and Franciscus Pariz, Sancta merx viri nobilissimi J. Henrici Glaseri (Basel, 1675).

P. E. Pilet

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Glaser, Johann Heinrich

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