AHP is pleased to announce the launch of a rich new web resource: the Museu de História das Neurociências Comportamentais [the History Museum of Behavioral Neuroscience]. The site features a digital collection of scientific instruments connected to the history of neuroscience, particularly behavioral neuroscience, in Brazil. It likewise highlights several key researchers who contributed to the development of behavioral neuroscience in Brazil.
The Museu de História das Neurociências Comportamentais will be of particular interest to those interested in scientific instrument collections and will make for a great online resource for both historians of psychology and their students alike. If your Portuguese is on the weak side, do not despair! You can use your browser settings to translate the pages to your language of choice (Google Chrome makes this particularly easy – see instructions here).
The Museu de História das Neurociências Comportamentais has plans to continue growing and contributions to the site are welcomed. To submit a photograph of an instrument, laboratory space, or researcher connected to the history of behavioral neuroscience in Brazil, contact firstname.lastname@example.org with a description of the person or object featured in the image, the name of the institution to which it is connected, and any references or links you would want included with the entry (You can download the contribution form here).
Using a 2013 PNAS article titled Sex Differences in the Structural Connectome of the Human Brain as case study, the authors “tracked the journey of the PNAS research from its initial scientific publication, through a university-issued press release, into its reception in the traditional news media, online reader comments and blog entries.” Acccording to the abstract, their analysese “suggested that scientific research on sex difference offers an opportunity to rehearse abiding cultural understandings of gender. In both scientific and popular contexts, traditional gender stereotypes were projected onto the novel scientific information, which was harnessed to demonstrate the factual truth and normative legitimacy of these beliefs.”
The British Neuroscience Association (BNA) is teaming up with the Edinburgh International Science Festival for its annual conference this April. The BNA will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its origins as a small discussion group meeting monthly upstairs in a London pub. The Science Festival is just half as old. The very term neuroscience was unfamiliar half a century ago—it had been coined in the early 1960s by a far-seeing Massachusetts Institute of Technology biophysicist, Francis Schmitt.
Read the full text of his personal history of neuroscience here.
The latest issue of the Journal of the History of the Neuroscience is now online (find it here). Included in this issue are articles on the first comparative survey of the microscopic anatomy of vertebrate brains, tuberculosis-related aphasia in the nineteenth century, and the treatise “De structura nervorum” by Jirí Procháska. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Jirí Procháska (1749-1820): Part 2: “De structura nervorum”–Studies on a Structure of the Nervous System,” by Alexandr Chvátal. The abstract reads:
The treatise “De structura nervorum” by Jirí Procháska was published in 1779 and is remarkable not only for its anatomical and histological findings but also for its historical introduction, which contains a detailed bibliographical review of the contemporary knowledge of the structure of the nervous tissue. Unfortunately, the treatise has never been translated from the Latin language, but it deserves further analysis as a historical document about the level of neuroscience research conducted by a famous Czech scholar. The present article includes a historical overview of the contemporary knowledge of the structure of the nervous tissue up to the late eighteenth century from the perspective of today, a translation of selected chapters from Prochaska’s treatise (a historical introduction about the medieval knowledge of the structure of the nervous tissue and an interpretation of his neurohistological observations), and an analysis of Jirí Prochaska’s results in light of current knowledge.
Finkelstein considers how someone so famous and so important could end up so forgotten, and he does a masterful job in rectifying that situation. The book traces du Bois-Reymond’s life and work, from a childhood in Berlin, to an early life and schooling in Bonn, and then back to Berlin and beyond in the course of a mature career in laboratories and lecture halls. We meet the scientist as teacher, as writer, and as public and university intellectual, and follow his transformation from Romantic to Lucretian and his dual existence as simultaneously staunch individual and product of his class and culture. The chapters are beautifully written, and range from exploring diary pages and love letters to laboratory equipment, with stopovers to consider frog pistols and hopping dances of joy along the way. Whether du Bois-Reymond was accepting the advice of his friends (as offered above) or avoiding his underwear-proffering mother-in-law (of which you’ll hear more in the conversation), he emerges here as not just an important historical figure, but also a fascinating person who’s a joy to read about.
Emil du Bois-Reymond is the most important forgotten intellectual of the nineteenth century. In his own time (1818–1896) du Bois-Reymond grew famous in his native Germany and beyond for his groundbreaking research in neuroscience and his provocative addresses on politics and culture. This biography by Gabriel Finkelstein draws on personal papers, published writings, and contemporary responses to tell the story of a major scientific figure. Du Bois-Reymond’s discovery of the electrical transmission of nerve signals, his innovations in laboratory instrumentation, and his reductionist methodology all helped lay the foundations of modern neuroscience.
In addition to describing the pioneering experiments that earned du Bois-Reymond a seat in the Prussian Academy of Sciences and a professorship at the University of Berlin, Finkelstein recounts du Bois-Reymond’s family origins, private life, public service, and lasting influence. Du Bois-Reymond’s public lectures made him a celebrity. In talks that touched on science, philosophy, history, and literature, he introduced Darwin to German students (triggering two days of debate in the Prussian parliament); asked, on the eve of the Franco-Prussian War, whether France had forfeited its right to exist; and proclaimed the mystery of consciousness, heralding the age of doubt. The first modern biography of du Bois-Reymond in any language, this book recovers an important chapter in the history of science, the history of ideas, and the history of Germany.
The History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group at Queen Mary University of London, supported by the Wellcome Trust, has just made available online some of its material through the Medical Heritage Library. Among the items that can now be accessed online that may be of interest to AHP readers are a series of neuroscience history videos of oral history interviews with prominent neuroscientists, as well as the transcript of the Witness Seminar on the MRC Applied Psychology Unit at Cambridge (now the Cognitive and Brain Sciences Unit). The latter is one of a series of events where prominent figures and historians are invited to gather and discuss significant historical events and figures. The MRC Applied Psychology United Witness Seminar was held at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL, London, on 12 June 2001. The full collection of items from the History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group can be found online here.
An article in the January issue of the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences may be of interest to some AHP readers. In “Mysterious ‘Monsieur Leborgne': The Mystery of the Famous Patient in the History of Neuropsychology is Explained,” Domanski discusses the biographical lineage of arguably the most important patient in neuroscience history: the Frenchman “Monsieur Leborgne.” The patient’s identity had remained a mystery until this article. Full article details below:
As of spring 2011, 150 years have passed since the death of one of the most famous neurological patients of the nineteenth century. A Frenchman, “Monsieur Leborgne” also known by the nickname “Tan,” was hospitalized due to an almost complete loss of speech. His case was presented in 1861, during a seating of the Société d’Anthropologie de Paris by a physician, Pierre Paul Broca (1824-1880), who used this occasion to report that he had discovered, in the middle part of patient’s left frontal lobe, the cortical speech center. This area was later named “Broca’s area.” Both the patient and his medical records were the subject of numerous descriptions and citations in the medical literature. The patient’s full identity and social background has remained a mystery until now. This article presents biographical data concerning Leborgne and his family based on archive registers in France.
The just released February 2010 issue of the History of the Human Sciences is devoted to the “Neuroscience, Power, and Culture.” This special issue is an outgrowth of a workshop, “Our Brains, Our Selves?”, that was held at Harvard University in the spring of 2008. Speaking of the articles included in this issue, Guest Editor Scott Vrecko (left), asserts that,
a recognition of the socio-cultural embeddedness of neuroscience is only a starting point for analyses. From there, the investigations move on to demonstrate, through the use of a range of methods, case studies and analytic perspectives, the concrete ways that neuroscience and knowledge politics play out in specific spheres, and in relation to particular issues, understandings and social forms.
The first issue of the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences for 2010 has been released online. Included in this issue are three all new articles which address the Triune Brain in antiquity, the history of neuroscience research at MIT, and the discovery of reinforcing self-stimulation of the brain. Titles, authors and abstracts are listed below.
“The Triune Brain in Antiquity: Plato, Aristotle, Erasistratus” by C. U. M. (Chris) Smith, Vision Sciences, Aston University, Birmingham, UK. The abstract reads:
Tripartite neuropsychologies have featured through two and half millennia of Western thought. They received a modern airing in Paul MacLean’s well-known text The Triune Brain. This paper examines the origin of these triune psychophysiologies. It is argued that the first such psychophysiology was developed in the fifth century BCE in the Republic and its Pythagorean sequel, the Timaeus. Aristotle, Plato’s pupil and colleague, developed a somewhat similar theory, though this time based on his exhaustive biological researches. Finally, a generation later, Herophilus and Erasistratus at the Alexandrian Museum put together a more anatomically informed tripartite theory that, somewhat modified by Galen in the second century AD, remained the prevailing orthodoxy for nearly fifteen hundred years until it was overturned by the great figures of the Renaissance. Continue reading New Issue of JHN→