- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Karl Friedrich Burdach

Born  1776
Died  1847

Related eponyms

German anatomist, physiologist, and embryologist, born June 12, 1776, Leipzig; died July 16, 1847, Königsberg.

Biography of Karl Friedrich Burdach

Karl Friedrich Burdach was a natural scientist typical of his peers and representative of a distinctive period in the intellectual life of Germany – the romantic age of the early nineteenth century. Guided by the tenets of Naturphilosophie, he made significant contributions, particularly to neuroanatomy. His penchant for extreme systematization, however, led him to publish in his many treatises much that later workers ridiculed as "unscientific". (Alan S. Kay.)

Karl Friedrich Burdach was the son and grandson of physicians. He was the only son of Daniel Christian Burdach (1739-1777), who practiced medicine in Leipzig and died when Karl Friedrich was only one year old.

He began his studies at the University of Leipzig in 1793 and received the doctor of philosophy degree five years later, in August 1798. He was still unqualified to practice, however, since at the time Leipzig did not offer any clinical training. He therefore proceeded to Vienna and the great clinician Johann Peter Frank (1745-1821).

At the end of his year at Vienna, Burdach began to search – unsuccessfully – for an academic position. He formally was conferred doctor of medicine at Leipzig in June 1799, and settled down to private practice and private lecturing while awaiting a university appointment. During this period Burdach, who was fascinated by Schelling's natural philosophy, turned to medical writing as a means of supplementing his income and making his name known.

In these early works, Burdach’s sympathies for the Romantic philosophy of nature were obvious. His first writings were mainly of historical contents and concerned natural phenomena.

«Those who have thoughts have always seen more than those who have merely wanted to see with their own eyes.»

In 1811 Burdach accepted an invitation to become professor of anatomy, physiology and forensic medicine at the University of Tartu, the Kaiserliche Universität zu Dorpat / Imperatorskij Derptskij Universitet. Tartu was founded in 1632 by King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden (1594-1632) as Dorpat. At this time Burdach took a special interest in the evolutionary history and the brain, and it was here in Dorpat he commenced his important brain research. His lectures revealed his inclination to natural philosophy, but were received with acclaim by his students.

Animated by the desire to return to Germany, in 1813-1814 Burdach applied for and received the recently vacated chair of anatomy and physiology in Königsberg. In addition to an increase in salary and the title of Hofrath, he obtained permission to create and head an anatomical institute. With Martin Heinrich Rathke (1793-1860) and Karl Ernst von Baer (1792-1876), a former student of his at Dorpat, he established the collection with Baer as prosector. The Königliche Anatomische Anstalt in Königsberg was formally opened on November 13, 1817. He remained director of this institute until 1827, later restricting himself to teaching and research activities. Baer, treated more as a colleague than assistant, dealt with zootomy, human anatomy, and foetal physiology. The research carried out at the institute was reported in annual Berichte.

Burdach concerned himself with examinations on the evolutionary history of the brain, particularly examining the 5th and the 7th brain nerve. The topics of his written works included the anatomy of the brain, pathology, dietetics, medication and other general medical themes.

Independently of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Burdach coined the term "morphology" in 1800. The word was first used by Goethe in his diary in 1796 in Jena. Burdach also coined the term "biology", in 1800. He suggested that this term be used to denote the study of human beings from a morphological, physiological, and psychological perspective. Among the first to use the word biology were also Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck (1744-1829) in 1802, and Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus (1776-1837) in his Biologie oder Philosophie der lebenden Natur, 1802. The first to use the word biology, however, was Michael Christoph Hanov (1695-1773).

His son, Ernst Burdach (1801-1876), was professor of anatomy at Königsberg.


The word biology:
  • Michael Christoph Hanov:
    Philosophiae naturalis sive physicae dogmaticae: Geologia, biologia, phytologia generalis et dendrologia.
    Halle : Renger, 1766. Volume 3 of Philosophiae naturalis sive physicae dogmaticae.
  • Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus (1776-1837):
    Biologie oder Philosophie der lebenden Natur. 1802.
  • Jean Baptiste Lamarque:
    Hydrogéologie. 1802 Works by Karl Friedrich Burdach:
  • Scriptorum de Asclepiade index. Lepizig, 1800.
  • Asclepiades und John Brown, eine Parallele. Lepzig, G. B. Meissner, 1800.
  • Propädeutik zum Studium der gesammten Heilkunst. Lepizig, 1800.
  • Die Diätetik für Gesunde. Leipzig, 1805.
  • Handbuch der neuesten Entdeckungen der inneren und äusseren Heilmittellehre.
    Leipzig, 1805
  • Beiträge zur näheren Kenntniss des Gehirns. Leipzig, 1805.
  • Die Lehre vom Schlagfusse. Leipzig, 1806.
  • Questionium de natura causticorum specimen. Leipzig, 1807.
  • Neues Resepttaschenbuch für Aerzte. Leipzig, 1807.
  • Handbuch der Pathologie.
    Leipzig, 1808. New edition, Edition Classic, Verlag Dr. Müller, 2006.
  • Der Organismus menschlicher Wissenschaft und Kunst. Leipzig 1809
  • Encyklopädie der Heilwissenschaft. Leipzig: Mitzky.
  • Die Literatur der Heilwissesnschaft. 2 volumes; Gotha : Perthes, 1810-1811.
  • Anatomische Untersuchungen : bezogen auf Naturwissenschaft und Heilkunst.
    Leipzig: Hartmann, 1814.
  • Ueber Waisenpflege zunächst in Beziehung auf Königsberg.
    Königsberg, 1816.
  • Ueber die Aufgabe der Morphologie.
    Leipzig : Dyk'sche Buchhandlung, 1817.
  • Berichte von der königlichen anatomischen Anstalt zu Königsberg.
    Königsberg, 1818-1824.
  • Beschreibung des untern Theils des Rückenmarks.
    Berichte von der königlichen anatomischen Anstalt zu Königsberg, etc. no. 1. 1818.
  • Vom Baue und Leben des Gehirns und Rückenmarks.
    3 volumes, Leipzig, in der Dyk’schen Buchhandlung, 1819-1826.
    Teil 1, 1819; Teil 2, 1822; Teil 3, 1826.
  • Bemerkungen über den Mechanismus der Herzklappen.
    Berichte von der königlichen anatomischen Anstalt zu Königsberg. no. 3. 1820.
  • Ansichten des Elektro-Magnetismus.
    Berichte von der königlichen anatomischen Anstalt zu Königsberg, no. 5. 1822
  • Die Physiologie als Erfahrungswissenschaft.
    Six volumes. Leipzig, Verlag von Leopold Boss, 1826-1840.
    I: Mit Beiträgen von Karl Ernst von Baer, Heinrich Ratkhe. 1826.
    Zweite, berichtigte und vermehrte Auflage, mit Ernst Meyer, Heinrich Rathke und G. Valentin. 1835.
    II: Mit Beiträgen von Karl Ernst von Baer, Heinrich Ratkhe und Ernst H. F. Meyer. 1828.
    Zweite Auflage mit Beiträgen von Heinrich Rathke, K. T. Siebold und G. Valentin. 1837.
    III: Leipzig, bei Leopold Boss. Without other contributors.
    Zweite, berichtigte und vermehrte Auflage. Mit Beiträgen von Albert Hahn & Ludwig Moser.
    IV: Mit Beiträgen von Johannes Müller. Leipzig, bei Leopold Boss, 1832.
    V: Mit Beiträgen von Rudolph Wagner. Leipzig, bei Leopold Boss, 1835.
    VI: Mit Beiträgen von Ernst Burdach und Johann Friedrich Dieffenbach. 1840.
    Uncompleted handbook planned to run 10 volumes, but the death of his wife quenched his enthusiasm for the task. Written with the consultative assistance of Karl Ernst von Baer, Martin Heinrich Rathke (1793-1860), Ludwig Moser, Johannes Peter Müller (1801-1858), Karl Theodor von Siebold (1804-1885), Gabriel Gustav Valentin (1810-1883), and Rudolph Wagner (1805-1864).
    Von Baer’s contribution included material also published the same year in Ueber Entwicklungsgeschichte der Thiere. Burdach’s unsatisfactory editing of it for Die Physiologie stimulated von Baer to have his own separate book published, De ovi mammalium et hominis genesi.
    The form of the work was determined for Burdach by his conception of physiology. The ultimate goal of physiology was knowledge of the human spirit (Geist); but the essence (Wesen) of anything, he pointed out, takes root only in the whole of reality, and only therein will it be completely known. Thus in order to know man, physiology must view the whole of nature and consider all the phenomena of the world. For Burdach, as for many of his contemporaries, physiology was no longer a study of the functions or uses of organic parts, but of lige and its appearances. "Physiology is thereafter the apex of all natural science, the point of unity of the knowledge of reality." (Alan S. Kay)
  • Ueber Psychologie als Naturwissenschaft. Lecture, Berlin, 1828.
  • Ueber die Stellung der Psychologie.
    Litterarische Annalen der gesammten Heilkunde, Berlin, 1829, volume 13: 1-9.
  • Historisch-statistische Studien über die Cholera-Epidemie vom Jahre 1831.
    Königsberg 1832.
  • Anthropologie für das gebildete Publicum. Der Mensch nach den verschiedenen Seiten seiner Natur.
    Stuttgart : Balz, 1837. 2nd edition 1847. New edition: Stuttgart : Becher, 1854.
  • Gerichtsärztliche Arbeiten.
    Stuttgart und Tübingen. Cotta'schen Buchhandlung, 1839.
  • Anthropologie für das gebildete Publicum.
    Unter Mitwirkung des Verfassers umgearbeitet und herausgegeben von dessen Sohne Dr. Ernst Burdach, Professor der Anatomie zu Königsberg. Zweite, vermehrte Auflage, Stuttgart 1847. XII + 743 pages. With a portrait of the author.
  • Blicke in’s Leben. 4 volumes, 1842-1848.
    The last volume, published posthumously in 1848, was Burdach's autobiography.
  • Rückblicke auf mein Leben. Biographical etc:
  • H. B. Picard:
    [K. F. Burdach's work and philosophy.]
    Medizinische Monatsschrift, Stuttgart, February 1951, 5 (2):1125-128.
  • K. Freemutsch:
    Organ der Seele : Beiträge zur Geschichte der romantischen Medizin nach den Werken Karl Friedrich Burdachs.
    [The organ of the soul; contribution to the history of romantic medicine according to the works of Karl Friedrich Burdach, 1776-1847.]
    Monatsschrift für Psychiatrie und Neurologie, Berlin, May/June 1953, 125 (5-6): 371-385.
  • August Hirsch (1817-1894), publisher:
    Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte aller Zeiten und Völker.
    2nd edition. Berlin, Urban & Schwarzenberg, 1929.
    First published in 6 volumes 1884-1888. 3rd edition, München 1962.
  • A. Meyer:
    Karl Friedrich Burdach on Thomas Willis.
    Journal of the Neurological Sciences, Amsterdam, March/April 1966, 3 (2): 109-116.
  • Alan S. Kay:
    Burdach, Karl Friedrich. In: Charles Coulston Gillispie, editor in chief: Dictionary of Scientific Biographies. Charles Scribner’s Sons. New York, 1970.
  • A. Meyer:
    Karl Friedrich Burdach and his place in the history of neuroanatomy.
    Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, London, October 1970, 33 (5): 553-561.
  • R. A. Kyle and M. A. Shampo:
    Karl F. Burdach. JAMA, Chicago, November 5, 1982, 248 (17): 2168.
  • Richard Toellner:
    Illustrierte Geschichte der Medizin. Andreas & Andreas Verlag, Salzburg, 1990.
    Original title: Histoire de la Médicine, de la Pharmacie, de l'Art Dentaire et de l'Art Vétérinaire. Paris 1978.
  • Jeremy M. Norman, editor:
    Morton’s Medical Bibliography. An annotated Check-list of Texts Illustrating the History of Medicine (Garrison and Morton).
    Fifth edition. Scolar Press, 1991.
  • Michael Hagner:
    Karl Friedrich Burdach. In: Deutsche biographische Enzyklopädie. München: Saur, 1995. Volume 2: 233-234
  • Olaf Breuidbach:
    Karl Friedrich Burdach.
    In: Naturphilosophie nach Schelling / Thomas Bach, Olaf Breidbach [Hrsg]. Frommann Holzboog 2005: 73-106.
We thank Rudolf Kleinert, Bad Reichenhall, Germany, for information submitted.

What is an eponym?

An eponym is a word derived from the name of a person, whether real or fictional. A medical eponym is thus any word related to medicine, whose name is derived from a person.

What is Whonamedit?

Whonamedit.com is a biographical dictionary of medical eponyms. It is our ambition to present a complete survey of all medical phenomena named for a person, with a biography of that person.


Whonamedit? does not give medical advice.
This survey of medical eponyms and the persons behind them is meant as a general interest site only. No information found here must under any circumstances be used for medical purposes, diagnostically, therapeutically or otherwise. If you, or anybody close to you, is affected, or believe to be affected, by any condition mentioned here: see a doctor.