Sept. 16, 2021

Medical historian Frank W. Stahnisch recognized by Royal Society of Canada

UCalgary professor’s monograph accounts the history of the modern neurosciences
Dr. Frank Stahnisch

The decades-long work of Dr. Frank W. Stahnisch, MD, tracking, researching and recording the history of the neurosciences is being recognized by the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) with the Jason A. Hannah Medal. The medal recognizes the work of Canadian research in the history of medicine and honours an important publication. 

“We are very proud of this recognition for Professor Stahnisch. His work on the history of neuroscience research is widely regarded within Canada. The recognition by the Royal Society of Canada for a career of study in this field is very well deserved,” says Dr. Todd Anderson, vice-dean, Cumming School of Medicine (CSM).

Published in 2020 by McGill-Queen’s University Press, Stahnisch’s book A New Field in Mind – A History of Interdisciplinarity in the Early Brain Sciences documents and analyzes the origins of the modern neurosciences as an interdisciplinary field from the late 19th century to the postwar period.

“I am very grateful that my book has been chosen as an important publication in the history of medicine to be awarded with this medal,” says Stahnisch, a historian of medicine and health care who immigrated to Canada 15 years ago.

“This is not only because of the decade-long strenuous and demanding historical research which eventually got integrated into this monograph, but because it can also emphasize awareness for the extended paths of research and educational initiatives which led, since the 19th century, to the creation of the modern field of neuroscience.”

The book draws on archival research from both sides of the Atlantic, ranging from Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom to Canada and the United States — crucial countries where the neurosciences developed into innovative research communities. 

Notably, it also features extensive oral history interviews dating back to the year 2000 from former institute directors, prominent international scientists, and other research leaders, many of whom have since passed, marking these accounts a key piece of medical history. 

A New Field in Mind is an outstanding contribution to the history of the neurosciences and we are very pleased to have it as part of the McGill-Queen’s/AMS Studies in the History of Medicine, Health, and Society book series,” says Philip Cercone, executive director of McGill-Queen’s University Press.

“It is also a captivating study of how social, cultural, and political factors shape the direction of research and, ultimately, the creation of knowledge. We congratulate Professor Stahnisch upon the achievement of A New Field in Mind and upon his receipt of the Jason A. Hannah Medal from the RSC.”

In addition to his research into the history and philosophy of neuroscience, Stahnisch is a professor in the University of Calgary’s Department of Community Health Sciences in the CSM, and in the Department of History in the Faculty of Arts. His research further attempts to create in-depth understanding for the development and necessities of basic research in biomedicine. It places medicine and neuroscience in the wider historical context of society and culture with their specific traditions of healing, scientific inquiry, and health-care applications. 

“The receipt of the Jason A. Hannah Medal in the History of Medicine by the Royal Society of Canada is one of the highest distinctions that I have received in my scholarly career. I am deeply honoured and humbled by receiving this award, as well as having become part of an illustrious list of Canadian colleagues in the history of medicine, who have received this medal during the almost five decades since its existence,” says Stahnisch.

“That it is possible for an immigrant scholar, who has obtained his prior academic training abroad, to receive such a national academic distinction in Canada makes me deeply humble and full of gratitude for this country.”

Dr. Frank W. Stahnisch, MD, PhD, MSc, is a professor in the departments of Community Health Sciences and History, and adjunct professor in the Department of Classics and Religion. He is also a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and the Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education. He currently holds the Alberta Medical Foundation/Hannah Professorship in the History of Medicine and Health Care within the Cumming School of Medicine. 

The RSC Award nomination period opens Jan. 15, 2022 and closes March 31, 2022. RSC Awards celebrate outstanding contributions from across disciplines and across generations. The Royal Society of Canada is the recognized pre-eminent body of independent scholars, researchers, and creative people in Canada whose members comprise a collegium that can provide intellectual leadership for the betterment of Canada and the world. Learn more on the Research website.