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Walter Pagel (1898-1983), pathologist and medical historian

  • Pagel, Walter, 1898-1983.
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


The papers cover most stages of WP's career and includes correspondence, research notes and photographs. Significant areas coverd include section A, which relates to his school and university education, and his dismissal in 1933; section C, which consists of papers (writings and collected letters) relating to his work on tuberculosis; and section D, which relates to his work in medical history. The collection also includes some papers relating to his father, Julius Pagel, in section A.



Physical description

14 boxes


The collection is divided into sections as follows:


A.1 Family papers

A.1/1 Abraham Baer Pagel

A.1/2 Julius Pagel

A.1/3 WP's brothers

A.2 WP

A.3 Magda Koll

A.4 Photographs

A.4/1 Julius Pagel

A.4/2 WP



C.1 Correspondence

C.2 Probleme der Pathologie Tuberkulose, notes and contract

C.3 Pulmonary Tuberculosis, notes and contract

C.4 Articles 1922-1971

C.5 Notes for talk


D.1 Notebooks and notes

D.2 Book typescripts and correspondence with publishers

D.3 Articles

D.4 Reviews

D.5 Reviews of WP's books

D.6 Paracelsus Brief

Acquisition note

These papers were given to the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre in December 1983 by Dr Bernard Pagel, Walter Pagel's son. A few letters were donated by recipients after a memorial symposium at the Wellcome Institute in December 1983.

Biographical note

Walter Pagel was born in Berlin, the youngest son of Julius Pagel, the Professor of Medical History at the Friedrich Wilhelms Universität, Berlin, where WP studied medicine. WP then worked at the Preussisches Institut für Infektionskrankheiten 'Robert Koch', Berlin, undertaking research in microbiology and immunology. In 1924 he moved to the Berlin Municipal Tuberculosis Hospital at Sommerfeld, where he pursued the immunological aspects of TB, working on theories recently advanced by Ranke. He continued to work as a pathologist in Germany until Hitler's accession to power in 1933, when he was dismissed from his post as a Jew. He then worked briefly in Paris before settling in England where he worked in Cambridge and London until his retirement in 1967. Between 1924 and 1967 WP was the author of around 120 publications on tuberculosis, including seven major monographs - of which Pulmonary Tuberculosis, 1939, was the OUP's standard textbook on the subject.

However, it was as a medical historian that WP was best known, concerned with the study of philosophy and religion in the 16th and 17th centuries, and primarily with the work of van Helmont, Paracelsus and Harvey. WP's first major historical monograph on van Helmont was published in 1930, but the majority of his historical research was carried out after his retirement from pathology work in 1967.

A biographical outline is appended:

Nov 1898 Born Berlin, son of Julius Pagel, Professor of the History of Medicine, Friedrich Wilhelms Universität, Berlin

Educated at Friedrichs-Gymnasium, Berlin

1919-1922 Demonstrator and co-assistant to L Pick, Department of Pathology, Municipal Hospital Am Friedrichshain, Berlin

1920 Marriage to Magda Koll

1922 Pathology MD, Friedrich Wilhelms Universität, Berlin

Work at Preussisches Institut für Infektionskrankheiten 'Robert Koch', Berlin

1923-1926 Resident Medical Officer under H Ulrici, Municipal Tuberculosis Hospital, Sommerfeld, Berlin

1926-1928 Assistant to A Schmincke, Department of Morbid Anatomy and Pathology, Tübingen University

1928-1930 Prosector, Municipal Tuberculosis Hospital, Sommerfeld

1930 Assistant to HE Sigerist, Institute of Medical History, Leipzig University

1930-1933 Lecturer in pathology and medical history and assistant to the Department of Pathology, University of Heidelberg

1933 Expelled from post

1933 Work under A Calmette at Institut Pasteur, Paris

1933-1939 Pathologist to Papworth Village Settlement, Cambridge

1934-1939 Honorary Secretary to History of Science Lectures Committee, University of Cambridge

Mar 1939 Naturalised British subject

1939-1956 Pathologist to Central Middlesex Hospital, London

1951 Honorary Member, Swedish Medical Association

1952 Honorary Member, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Geschichte der Medizin, Naturwissenschaft und Technik

1952 Effective Member, International Academy for the History of Science, Paris

1956-1967 Consultant Pathologist, Clare Hall Hospital

1956 Honorary Member, Israeli Association for the History of Medicine

1957 Honorary Member, American Association for the History of Medicine

1961 Dr Med HC, Basel

1962 Honorary Fellow, Faculty of the History of Medicine, London

1962 Honorary Member, Akademie für Geschichte der Medizin

1962 Honorary Fellowship, Worshipful Society of Apothecaries

1963 Founder Fellow, Royal College of Pathologists, London

1964 Honorary Member, Royal Society of Medicine (History Section)

1966 Dr Med HC, Heidelberg

1968 Honorary Member, Swiss Association for the History of Medicine

1968 Honorary Member, Gesellschaft für Wissenschaftgeschichte

1969 D Litt, Leeds

1969 Dexter Award, American Chemical Society

1970 Honorary Member, Paracelsus Gesellschaft

1970 George Sarton Medal, American History of Science Society

1971 Julius Pagel Medal

1972 Science, Medicine and Society in the Renaissance. Essays to Honour Walter Pagel, New York, ed AG Debus

1973 Robert Koch Medal

1976 Honorary Fellow of the British Academy

1976 William H Welch Medal

1983 Dies, 25 Mar

Dec 1983 Walter Pagel Memorial Symposium, WIHM

Feb 1984 Sale of library at Sotheby's

Obituaries of Pagel appeared in British Medical Journal 23 Apr, 7 May, 21 May 1983; Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 57, 1983; Jewish Medicine, 1983; Lancet, 16 Apr 1983; The Times, 4 Apr 1983; Medical History, 27, 1983.

Selected bibliography of Pagel's works:

1930 Entführung in die philosophische Medizin des Barock, Berlin, Springer

1958 Paracelsus. An introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance, New York, S Karger

1962 Das medizinische Weltbild des Paracelsus: Seine Zusammenhänge mit Neuplatonismus und Gnosis, Wiesbaden, Franz Steiner Verlag

1967 William Harvey's Biological Ideas. Selected Aspects and Historical Background, New York, S Karger

1982 Johann Baptista van Helmont: Reformer of Science and Medicine, CUP

1984 The Smiling Spleen, New York, S Karger

See also Background to Modern Science. Ten Lectures at Cambridge Arranged by the History of Science Committee, ed J Needham and W Pagel, Cambridge, 1938; and Science, Medicine and Society in the Renaissance, AG Debus, New York, 1972.

Appraisal note

In 1984 Dr Marianne Winder, the Curator of the WIHM Oriental Collections, carried out an initial listing of the papers, but did not undertake any substantial arrangement. When the collection was finally catalogued, although some grouping of papers was evident, the collection was in a state of considerable disorder. There was a large body of correspondence with no discernible arrangement by date, correspondent or subject. Most of the correspondence concerned issues of medical history, and has now been arranged alphabetically by correspondent (Section B). A small amount of the correspondence was in discernible groups relating to specific issues, such as the award of honours, or testimonials by colleagues, and has been left in these groups.

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