Sudhoff, Karl Friedrich Jakob

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(b. Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 26 November 1853; d.Salzwedel, Germany, 8 October 1938)

history of medicine.

Sudhoff, the son of a Protestant minister, attended the elementary school and Gymnasium in Frankfurt until his family moved to Zweibrücken and then to Kreuznach, where he finished his secondary education. He studied medicine at the universities of Erlangen, Tübingen, and Berlin, taking the M.D. in 1875, then did postgraduate work in the hospitals of Augsburg and, for a short time, Vienna. In 1878 he established a general practice in Bergen, near Frankfurt; in 1883 he moved to Hochdahl, near Düsseldorf, where he practiced until 1905.

During the twenty-seven years of his medical practice Sudhoff devoted his spare time to the study of the history of medicine. His own first major contribution to the field was his two-volume Bibliographia Paracelsica (1894–1899), an indispensable guide to the Paracelsian printed and manuscript source material. This work brought him some fame, and Sudhoff in 1901 became instrumental in founding the German Society for the History of Medicine and Science. In 1905 he was offered the chair in the history of medicine at the University of Leipzig that had been endowed by the widow of Theodor Puschmann, who had left her entire fortune to that university for the promotion of the study of medical history. Sudhoff left Hochdahl for Leipzig in the same year, and began to develop the first German department for the history of medicine. He further contributed to this field by editing a series of important periodicals, including the Mitteilungen zur Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften (from 1902), the Studien zur Geschichte der Medizin (from 1907), and Sudhoffs Klassiker der Medizin (from 1910). The Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften (later called Sudhoffs Archiv), of which he was founder and to which he contributed heavily, first appeared in 1907.

Sudhoff’s own historical researches were concerned chiefly with the fields of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance medicine and with epidemiology. In 1909 he published Aerztliches aus griechischen Papyrus-Urkunden, in which he considered ancient materials concerning water supply, housing conditions, clothing, gymnastics, and cosmetics, as well as medical topics; the following year he brought out Aus dem antiken Badewesen, a detailed discussion of ancient hygienic practices. He also traveled widely throughout Europe to examine medieval manuscripts, which he photographed and edited; he was particularly concerned with medical and anatomical iconography, and traced the ramifications of the iconographical tradition back to the early Middle Ages. He edited a large number of medieval texts on medicine, surgery, dietetics, and anatomy, and demonstrated the significance of the Salernitan school as the center of medical lore and training in the Latin West. In Renaissance studies, he returned to the works of Paracelsus in 1922 and began the critical edition that he finished eleven years later; he also published facsimile editions of the anatomical tables of Vesalius and Jost de Negker. In epidemiology, Sudhoff edited important source materials on the early history of syphilis and the plague.

Sudhoff also wrote two textbooks, an innovative history of dentistry and a medical history that continued Pagel’s introduction to the subject. But although his publications and editions were vastly consequential, Sudhoff’s chief contribution to science lies in his espousal of a strict historical method, based upon an objective and thorough study of original sources, to which he dedicated both himself and his students. His institute at the University of Leipzig was a center of medico-historical research and served as a model for other such departments both in Europe and elsewhere. Upon his retirement from the university in 1925, he was succeeded by Henry Sigerist, but when Sigerist went to the Johns Hopkins University in 1932 Sudhoff returned as acting director, a post in which he remained until 1934.


I. Original Works. A complete list of Sudhoff’s writings, compiled by G. Herbrand-Hochmuth, is “Systematisches Verzeichnis der Arbeiten Karl Sudhoffs,” in Sudhoffs Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften,27 (1934), 131–186; with additions, ibid.,31 (1938), 343–344, and 32 (1939), 279–284.

Of his individual works, see especially Bibliographia Paracelsica, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1894–1899); Kurzes Handbuch der Geschichte der Medizin (Berlin, 1922), which was a new ed. of J. L. Pagel, Einführung in die Geschichte der Medizin; Iatromathematiker vornehmlich im 15, und 16. Jahrhundert (Breslau, 1902); Tradition und Naturbeobachtung in den Illustrationen medizinischer Handschriften und Frühdrucke vornehmlich des 15. Jahrhunderts (Leipzig, 1907); Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Anatomie im Mittelalter speziell der anatomischen Graphik und Handschriften des 9. bis 15. Jahrhunderts (Leipzig, 1908); Ärztliches aus griechischen Papyrus-Urkunden (Leipzig, 1909); Aus dem antiken Badewesen (Berlin, 1910); Aus der Frügeschichte der Syphilis (Leipzig, 1912); Beiträge zur Geschichte der Chirurgie im Mittelalter, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1914–1918); Des Andreas Vesalius sechs anatomische Tafeln vom Jahre 1538 (Leipzig, 1920), written with M. Geisberg; Geschichte der Zahnheilkunde (Leipzig, 1921); Zehn Syphilisdrucke aus den Jahren 1495–1498, Monumenta medica, 3 (Milan, 1924); Erstlinge der pädiatrischen Literatur (Munich, 1925); Die ersten gedruckten Pestschriften (Munich, 1926), written with A. Klebs; and Die anatomischen Tafeln des Jost de Negker, 1539 (Munich, 1928), written with M. Geisberg. Sudhoff’s critical edition of Paracelsus is Theophrast von Hohenheim . . . Medizinische, naturwissenschaftliche und philosophische Schriften, 14 vols. (Munich-Berlin, 1922–1933).

A selection of Sudhoff’s work, compiled by H. E. Sigerist, is “Ausgewählte Abhandlungen zum 75. Geburtstage,” in Sudhoffs Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften, 21 (1929), 1–332; an autobiographical note is “Aus meiner Arbeit. Eine Rückschau,” ibid., 333–387.

II. Secondary Literature. Poggendorff, VIIa, 4, 602, gives a comprehensive list of biographical and bibliographical materials concerning Sudhoff and his work. See also W. Artelt, “Karl Sudhoff,” in Janus, 43 (1939), 84–91; P. Diepgen, “Zur hundertsten Wiederkehr des Geburtstages von Karl Sudhoff am 26. November 1953,” in Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences, 6 (1953), 260–265; and “Leben und Wirken eines grossen Meisters,” in Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Karl Marx Universität, Leipzig, 5 (1955–1956), 23–25; F. H. Garrison, “Karl Sudhoff as Editor and Bibliographer,” in Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine, 2 (1934), 7–9; J. R. Oliver, “Karl Sudhoff as a Classical Philologian,” ibid., 10–15; H. E. Sigerist, “Karl Sudhoff, the Man and the Historian,” ibid., 3–6; and “Karl Sudhoff, the Mediaevalist,” ibid., 22–25; and O. Temkin, “Karl Sudhoff, the Rediscoverer of Paracelsus,” ibid. , 16–21.

Nikolaus Mani