Pierre Paul Broca

Authors: Fatima Muni, Mumbi Gitau, Fatma Turker, Benjamin Crouch

Date: December 15, 2019

Pierre Paul Broca

Pierre Paul Broca


The purpose of this paper is to provide the reader with a good understanding of the famous French physician Pierre Paul Broca. Born in France in the year 1824, Broca made multiple concrete conclusions to his theories, making him a significant individual in the scientific community. During his studies, he put a lot of his focus and efforts on the human brain, considering the fact that he is most well known for finding Broca’s area and Broca’s aphasia. During his time, Broca was an intelligent man that succeeded in multiple areas of his work, even though some of it did take on a racist approach. In this paper, we give an overview and discuss Broca’s life and work, and the various accomplishments that he made throughout his career.

Early Life & Education:

Pierre Paul Broca was born in a small commune in southwestern France called Sainte-Foy-la-Grande on June 28, 1824. He suffered a stroke at the age of 56 and died in Paris on July 9, 1880.

He is most remembered for his contribution to the understanding of the brain. His study of brain lesions allowed him to discover the area of the brain connected to speech, which is now known as “Broca’s area”. His studies also contributed to the understanding of aphasia, and through his thorough study of aphasic patients he provided the first proof of the localisation of brain function.

Broca’s studies were encouraged by his family which consisted of his father, Benjamin Broca, a medical practitioner, and his mother, Annette Broca, who was known for her sharp intelligence.

He accomplished a basic education in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, and at his local university he studied both mathematics and physical science. He first earned a bachelor’s degree in history and literature and then moved on to earn a degree in science and mathematics. At the young age of seventeen he attended medical school in Paris graduating at the early age of twenty.

While at the university of Paris his mentors included: Philippe Rocord, Francois Leuret, and Pierre Nicolas Gerdy, which meant that Broca made the most of his time in medical school by establishing himself in the scientific world at a young age. The work he did along side these established scientists opened up many opportunities for Broca, and the surgeons and anatomists that he worked under helped teach and mentor him on ways of the scientific world. He was the founder of the Modern Anthropological School, which aimed to study the history and origins of man and the different transformations that have taken place throughout all of the ages and revolutions of our world. After graduating medical school he moved on to be a professor in the faculty of medicine.

At the age of 24 he began to get recognised for his contribution to the understanding of the limbic system, and he even started receiving awards and high positions due to his skills as an anatomist.

In 1868, he became a professor of clinical surgery and was elected as the chair of Clinical Surgery. He held this position until his death in 1880. While he was the chair of Clinical Surgery, he worked in many hospitals in Paris, including; St. Antoine, the Pitie, des Cliniques, and Necker.




A short video on Broca’s Scientific Contributions

Professional Activities:

Paul Broca’s professional career started when he graduated from medical school in 1844. He was a scientist with an impressive medical career, a life-long research experience, significant contributions to Anthropology, and extraordinary thoughts.

Paul Pierre Broca had multi-internships on urology, dermatology, psychiatry, anatomy, and surgery. In 1853, he became a professor (Sagan, 1934, pp.6-10) and won the title of the surgeon of the hospitals (Ekbal, 2019, p.89). His contributions to cancer and aneurysm, neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, neuropathology on the speech center and limbic lobe are important (Schiller,1979, p.VII). The hands-on learning style of medical education at that time might have influenced him (Gere, 2013, p.201). His occupation as a surgeon made his way to autopsy people’s brains who were suffering from speech disorders.

In terms of his research, his studies were originated from his involvement in “Society Anatomique de Paris” where he was very productive. Schiller (as cited in Wikipedia, 2019) stated that he contributed to understanding muscular disorders in addition to his 250 separate medical contributions (para.19). His research experience brought him to study Anthropology. In 1859, he founded the Society of Anthropology (Gere,2013, p.204). Broca (as cited in Wikipedia,2019) advocated the idea of polygenism which claims that each racial group comes from a different origin (para.21). Consequently, he had to say something about hybridity. Broca (as cited in Wikipedia, 2019) concluded that the result of reproduction between the two groups varies. Offsprings might be infertile, they may be infertile between themselves but could be fertile with the parent group, or they might even be fertile both between themselves and with the parent group,whereas the reproduction rates are subject to decline until it vanishes. The only successful variation is known as Eugenesic which is fertile. According to him, the French were an example of a eugenesic mixed race (para.24).

In the Society of Anthropology, discussions were focused on language, head shape, and race which would lead the discussions about brain size and intelligence in 1861(Gere, 2013, p.204). Ashok (as cited in Wikipedia,2019) stated that Broca thought brain size was not the only indicator of intelligence. He developed different terminology and instruments to support his points. For example, “cephalic index shows the relationship between the brains’ length and width, that was directly proportional with intelligence”. He concluded that the most intelligent European group was ‘long-headed’ (para.28).

Broca combined anthropology with medical research and practice, especially with neurology (Science Museum, para.1). He did not only study craniology, but wrote five volumes about the relationship between the size of the skull and intelligence (Gere, 2013, p. 206), Frank said (as cited in Wikipedia, 2019) he also designed different instruments such as a stereograph to reach a scientific approach to measure human physical features (para.27).




His thoughts were parallel with Charles Darwin’s theories. His quote ‘I would rather be a transformed ape than a degenerate son of Adam’ was a cause for conflict between him and the church (Wikipedia, para.5). He was against the slavery and colonization since he thought they would pose a threat to the native populations (Wikipedia, 2019, para.25). As Sagan (1934) stated “Broca was a humanist of the nineteenth century, but unable to shake the consuming prejudices, the human social diseases of his time. He thought men superior to women, and whites superior to blacks” (p.11).

Significant Contributions/Discoveries:

Best known for his role in the discovery of particular capacities in the various parts of the human brain. In 1861, Broca showed that the loss of capacity for speech was associated with damage to a particular portion of the brain. This area later became known as Broca’s convolution. His research also contributed to addressing questions related to the evolution of human language. Broca has contributed with discovering one part of the puzzle of the transmission of human culture. There are also his contributions to the field of physical anthropology. Craniology, or the scientific measurement of the human skull, was of major importance at the time, and Broca contributed by inventing roughly twenty seven different instruments for the measurement of all parts of the human body, as well as developing and standardizing a multitude of techniques of measuring. Broca is also credited with the founding of the first anthropological society in the world, in 1859.

Broca’s Area

Broca’s Area

Contemporary Assessments:

Pierre Paul Broca made many discoveries and large contributions in his area of work. He is most well known for his work on the human brain. His most significant contribution is known as “Broca’s area”. “Broca’s area” is the area within the human brain that is located in the frontal lobe, responsible for the motion required to produce speech. A person that is able to understand what others are saying, but has trouble finding words and actually speaking, is most commonly known to have “Broca’s aphasia”. He was able to make these discoveries by observing patients who had left frontal lobe damage, which he saw to be lesioned. Broca’s area has transformed the way we now understand speech production, language processing, and the way we comprehend things. Broca’s area has been a big help to researchers, helping them find causes linked to other speech disorders that are common in our world today and that are connected to this area of the brain. These speech disorders include stuttering and apraxia of speech. Another large discovery of Broca’s that has had a great impact on the world of science research today are the two famous institutions that he had founded, which are both located in Paris, France, and are formally known as the École des Hautes Études and the Société d’Anthropologie de Paris. The École des Hautes Études is now known to be one of France’s most prestigious establishments for research and education, specifically known for teaching neuroscience and chemistry in the natural science area. The Société d’Anthropologie de Paris, founded in 1859 by Broca, was a society made up of various scientists that were the members, where theories and ideas were discussed and observed. Today it is one of the oldest and still operating professional anthropological societies in the world, where they focus on studying the natural history, origins, and biological diversity of the human species.

Broca may be most well known for his work on the frontal lobe of the human brain, but that is not all he is known for. His contributions toward anthropometry are quite notable as well. In this area of his work, he presented the idea that physical features of the human body played a large role in predicting intelligence. He had created many instruments and data points that are now the foundation of methods used in medical and archeological craniometry. Paul Broca was not only a great anthropologist, but an amazing neurosurgeon as well, who came up with many findings and theories that are referred to and used a lot in our world today. His work on the human brain has become very influential, and his efforts have opened the path way for many more great discoveries.


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