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In the UK, as in most western countries, neurology and psychiatry evolved into separate disciplines in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there are signs of some convergence of the two disciplines, stimulated in part by a common interest in neuroscientific studies of the brain, but also a greater awareness of the psychological and social dimensions of neurological disorders and the re-emergence of the concept and discipline of neuropsychiatry. Neither the Royal College of Psychiatrists nor the Association of British Neurologists has a specialist interest group on history, but might there be support from both disciplines for a joint history group? So-called neurological and psychiatric diseases have been recorded for up to four millennia and the history of these disorders is profoundly intertwined.
Against this background, a symposium was held at the Institute of Psychiatry in London on 9 July 2014 on “The Historical Evolution and Future of Neurology and Psychiatry”. The event was partly sponsored by King's College London with the encouragement of the principal, Sir Richard Trainor, himself a historian, who welcomed 157 delegates and 13 speakers, including neurologists, psychiatrists, clinical and basic neuroscientists and historians. Sir Richard emphasised the commitment of King's College to neurology and psychiatry with its new joint Institute of Clinical Neurosciences, as well as to the Historical Sciences. He viewed this symposium as a high point of his last year as principal.
Babylonian neurology and psychiatry
Dr Edward Reynolds, a King's College neurologist, reviewed his collaborative studies over the past 25 years with James Kinnier Wilson, a Cambridge-based Babylonian scholar and son of the distinguished neurologist, Samuel Alexander Kinnier Wilson (1878–1937). He summarised detailed Babylonian cuneiform descriptions of epilepsy, stroke, facial palsy, psychoses, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, psychopathic behaviour, depression and anxiety. These accounts, which date from the first …