Vogt, Oskar Georg Dieckmann

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(b. Husum, Prussia, 6 April 1870;

d. Freiburg im Breisgau, West Germany, 31 July 1959) neurology, brain research, brain maps, psychotherapy, genetics.

Cécile and Oskar Vogt made a crucial contribution to twentieth-century brain research as a married couple. Their project was to relate mental, intellectual, emotional, and behavioral capacity to the cellular structures of the brain. They correlated structural difference in brain tissue to mental functions, thus localizing these functions at specific sites, the “architectonic areas” of the cortex or respective fine structures of subcortical gangliae. They established an extensive collection of brains, brain slices, and connected clinical data. To develop functional brain maps, they used a wide range of methodological approaches, including functional and comparative neuroanatomy, clinical neuroanatomy, electrophysiology, and neuropharmacology. Working in the paradigm of evolutionary and developmental biology, they integrated genetics and zoological systematics into their research. In their early years they used hypnosis and psychotherapy and became strong opponents of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis. They founded several research institutes, the most prominent being the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research in Berlin, and edited various scientific journals.

Early Years. Cécile Mugnier’s father, Pierre Louis Mugnier, had been an army brigadier officer; he died when she was two years old. Her mother, who was not married to Pierre Mugnier, was a freethinker who supported her daughter’s private education and her sitting for university entrance exams, which was quite unusual at the time. Cécile Mugnier went to Paris as one of the early female students of medicine and specialized in neurology. She aimed to pursue a scientific career and became “externe” at the men’s clinic Bicêtre, led by Pierre Marie, who had been a student of Paul Broca and Jean Martin Charcot. In 1898–1899 she took her medical exams; she earned her doctoral degree based on a study in neuroanatomy and gained her doctor’s license for France in 1900. She obtained the German licence in 1920 because of her scientific merits. In 1898 she became engaged to Oskar Vogt. They were married in 1899 in Berlin, where they settled down and started a lifelong scientific collaboration.

Oskar Vogt was the eldest son of the Protestant minister Hans Friedrich Vogt and his wife Maria Vogt. The father died early, leaving his widow with five small children. However, Oskar was able to attend the humanist gymnasium and go to university. A mentor and friend for life was Ferdinand Tönnies from his hometown; Tönnies was later the cofounder of the German society for sociology. Oskar Vogt studied medicine and biology in Kiel and Jena, where his teachers included Walter Flemming, Ernst Haeckel, Max Fürbringer, and Otto Binswanger. He qualified in medicine in 1893 and obtained his medical doctoral degree in neuroanatomy. At that time he worked as an assistant both to Binswanger at the psychiatric clinic in Jena and to Otto Binswanger’s brother Robert at the Sanatorium Bellevue in Kreutzlingen. A short stay with August Forel (at the Burghölzli Hospital in Zürich) established a firm friendship between the two men, subsequently including Cécile Vogt. Forel taught Oskar Vogt the technique of hypnosis and delegated to him the editorship of the Zeitschrift für Hypnotismus, Psychotherapie sowie andere psychophysiologische und psychopathologische Forschungen. The journal was continued after 1902 as Journal für Psychologie und Neurologie with Forel and Oskar Vogt as coeditors and after 1928 with Cécile Vogt as well.

A short time as an assistant to Paul Flechsig at the Psychiatrische und Nervenklinik in Leipzig in 1894–1895 ended in conflict; Oskar Vogt continued to earn his living as a psychotherapist using hypnosis in private practice. By good fortune he met the steel magnate Friedrich Alfred Krupp and his wife Margarethe and became their personal physician. The Krupp family, and especially the son-inlaw, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, later became the most powerful supporters of Oskar and Cécile Vogt—financially and politically. Without the Krupps, their scientific career would have been impossible. In 1897 and 1898 Oskar Vogt went to Paris to work as a psychotherapist and study neuroanatomy in the laboratory of Joseph J. Dejerine and Augusta Dejerine-Klumpke at the women’s clinic Salpêtrière. In Paris he met Cécile Mugnier, and soon they began a scientific partnership, in which, with few exceptions, they published all their work together. Their two daughters became famous scientists: Marthe Louise Vogt (1903–2003), a neuropharmacolo-gist, who emigrated to Britain in 1933–1934, and Marguerite Vogt, (b. 1913), a geneticist, who emigrated to the United States in 1952.

Founding of the Research Institutes. Beginning with the private Neurologische Centralstation, founded in 1898 in Berlin, Cécile and Oskar Vogt developed an institute for brain research, which became the world’s leading institution in the late 1920s and the precursor of the Max Planck Institutes for Brain Research in West Germany. Named Neurobiologisches Laboratorium, the Centralstation became part of the Friedrich Wilhelm University of Berlin in 1902. In 1914 it was incorporated into the newly founded Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research (KWI-B), headed by Oskar Vogt, who had been given the title of professor in 1913. This institutional situation enabled Cécile Vogt to work as a scientist at a time when women were officially not allowed to study in Prussia. In 1920 she got a position as Vorsteher der neuroanatomis-chen Abteilung at the KWI-B, which was comparable to an associate professorship at university. Oskar Vogt headed the newly established State Institute for Brain Research in Moscow from 1925 to the early 1930s, starting with the spectacular cytoarchitectonical investigation of Vladimir Ilich Lenin’s brain. He played a crucial role in German-Soviet scientific relations. He used his political influence and the support of Krupp and the Rockefeller Foundation in the late 1920s to build a new institute in Berlin-Buch with a neurological clinic dedicated to research and eleven departments with different disciplines to support brain research. One of them, the genetic department founded in 1925 and headed by Elena and Nikolai Timoféeff-Ressovsky from Moscow, became famous for its mutation research, for population genetics, and evolutionary synthesis.

Brain Research and Psychotherapy. Between 1902 and 1911 Cécile and Oskar Vogt and their coworker Korbinian Brodmann developed new brain maps, defining different regions of the mammalian and human cortex of the cerebrum according to their differences in the “architectonics,” that is the distribution of neuronal cell bodies (Brodmann’s cytoarchitectonic areas) or connecting fibers (myeloarchitectonics). In 1907 Cécile and Oskar Vogt presented the results of their experiments, using electrical stimuli applied at these areas to create specific differences in the motor reactions of anesthetized animals, showing for the first time the functional and anatomical difference between the sensory and motor cortices. Cécile Vogt investigated the substructure of the thalamus and subcortical grisea. In 1911 she identified certain movement disorders (ataxias) as caused by anatomical changes in the subcortical area corpus striatum (Vogtsche Krankheit). She also investigated the anatomical basis of Huntington’s Chorea.

In their work as psychotherapists, with Oskar Vogt using the cathartic method and hypnosis in the years before World War I, the Vogts became strongly critical of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis. Cécile Vogt coined the term disamnesia for the pathogenic inability to forget traumatic experiences, thus challenging Freud’s interpretation of repression as pathogenic. Oskar Vogt experimented with hypnosis and paved the way for the development of autogenic training. However, from World War I on, the Vogts increasingly saw somatic reasons for all psychic disorders—even criminality—as resided in the constitution or structure of the brain tissue. The cellular structures of the cerebellar cortex were represented as maps, and the collection and investigation of brains of people with different mental abilities aimed at a localization of these capacities in certain brain areas (elite brains). From the beginnings, the material basis of the research became the manufactory-like production of very thin slices of brains

embedded in paraffin wax, the staining of different structures, and their microscopic analysis. The published photographs of the structures seen in the brain slices are of a superb quality.

After World War I the Vogts developed a concept of pathoclisis, based on developmental genetics. Small functional units of brain tissue were supposed to have a specific vulnerability to external factors, thus leading to specific lesions and diseases. Using principles of zoological systematics and the intraspecific variations of the coloring of bumblebees as a model, the Vogts created a new way of classifying psychotic disorders, based on specific changes in brain tissue. Sharing eugenic convictions to “breed better brains” from neo-Lamarckian perspective until the 1940s, Cécile and Oskar Vogt in their later years aimed at specific intervention into certain brain areas at the molecular level, anticipating concepts of somatic gene therapy. In other words they hoped to change human behavior on the somatic level at their will.

Controversial at first, Cécile and Oskar Vogt came to be held in high scientific esteem, both being nominated members of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft in 1927 and of the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina Halle in 1932. In 1950 they received the Nationalpreis erster Klasse of East Germany. West Germany honored Oskar Vogt with the Bundesverdienstkreuz in 1959.

The Vogts’ huge collection of brain slices, human and vertebrate, is at the C. u. O. Vogt Institute for Brain Research of the Heinrich-Heine-University, Düsseldorf; Oskar Vogt’s collection of bumblebees and beetles (approximately seven hundred thousand specimens) is housed at the Zoological Museum, Amsterdam.

Having been pacifists during World War I, and close to the leftist-liberal political camp, Cécile and Oskar Vogt came under attack in 1933. Forced to leave the KWI-B, but protected by Krupp, they continued their work together at their new private Institut für Hirnforschung und Allgemeine Biologie in Neustadt, Black Forest. During the Nazi period they protected and hid Jewish people, some of them close friends. In 1950 they started the new Journal für Hirnforschung, published in Berlin, East Germany. After Oskar Vogt’s death in 1959 Cécile Vogt moved to Cambridge, United Kingdom. Until her death in 1962 she lived there with her daughter Marthe.



“Zur Kenntnis der elektrisch erregbaren Hirnrindengebiete bei den Säugetieren.” Journal für Psychologie und Neurologie 8, supp. (1907): 277–456.

“Allgemeinere Ergebnisse unserer Hirnforschung.” Journal für Psychologie und Neurologie 25, supp. 1 (1919): 277–461.

“Zur Lehre der Erkrankungen des striären Systems.” Journal für Psychologie und Neurologie 25, supp. 3 (1920): 631–846.

“Sitz und Wesen der Krankheiten im Lichte der topistischen Hirnforschung und des Variierens der Tiere.” Part 1, Journal für Psychologie und Neurologie 47 (1937): 237–457; Part 2, Journal für Psychologie und Neurologie 48 (1938): 169–324.

“Morphologische Gestaltungen unter normalen und pathogenen Bedingungen. Ein hirnanatomischer Beitrag zu ihrer Kenntnis.” Journal für Psychologie und Neurologie 50 (1941–1942): 161–524.

“Thalamusstudien I–III.” Journal für Psychologie und Neurologie 50 (1941–1942): 32–154.


“Quelques considerations générales à propos du syndrome du corps strié.” Journal für Psychologie und Neurologie 18 (1911): 479–488.

“Einige Ergebnisse unserer Neurosenforschung.” Die Naturwissenschaften 9, no. 18 (1921): 346–350.


Zeitschrift für Hypnotismus, Psychotherapie sowie andere psychophysiologische und psychopathologische Forschungen. Edited by Oskar Vogt, 1896–1902. Leipzig: Ambrosius Barth.

Denkschriften der medicinisch-naturwissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft zu Jena. Vols. 9, 10, 12: Neurobiologische Arbeiten. Edited by Oskar Vogt, 1902–1904. Jena: Gustav Fischer.

Journal für Psychologie und Neurologie. 51 volumes. 1902–1942.Leipzig: Ambrosius Barth. Published with the subtitles Zugleich Zeitschrift für Hypnotismus (1902–1910), and Mitteilungen aus den Gesamtgebiet der Anatomie, Physiologie und Pathologie des Zentralnervensystems sowie der medizinischen Pschychologie (1928–1942). Edited by August Forel and Oskar Vogt (1902–1928); by August Forel, CécileVogt, and Oskar Vogt (1924–1931); and by Cécile Vogt and Oskar Vogt (1931–1942).

Journal für Hirnforschung. Internationales Journal für Neurobiologie: Organ des Instituts für Hirnforschung und Allgemeine Biologie in Neustadt (Schwarzwald). Edited by Cécile Vogt and Oskar Vogt, 1954–1960. Berlin-DDR: Akademie Verlag.


Klatzo, Igor, in collaboration with Gabriele Zu Rhein. Cécile and Oskar Vogt: The Visionaries of Modern Neuroscience. Acta Neurochirurgica 80. Vienna: Springer, 2002. A very personal account.

Richter, Jochen. “Das Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Hirnforschung und die Topographie der Grosshirnhemisphären.” In Die Kaiser-Wilhelm-/Max-Planck-Gesellschaft und ihre Institute: Studien zu ihrer Geschichte; Das Harnack-Prinzip, edited by Bernhard Vom Brocke and Hubert Laitko. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1996.

Satzinger, Helga. Die Geschichte der genetisch orientierten Hirnforschung von Cécile und Oskar Vogt (1875–1962, 1870–1959) in der Zeit von 1895 bis ca. 1927. Stuttgart: Deutscher Apotheker Verlag, 1998. Includes a full bibliography of works by Cécile Vogt and Oskar Vogt.

Helga Satzinger