In the ‘Perspectives’ section, Steven Rose writes:
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 Unfortunately, the treatise has never been translated from the Latin language, but it deserves further analysis as a historical document about the level of neuroscience research conducted by a famous Czech scholar.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.
Continue reading In the New Issue of JHN: Jirí Procháska, Ludwig Edinger, & More
New Books in Science, Technology, and Society, part of the New Books Network, has released an audio interview with historian Gabriel Finkelstein on his recent book Emil du Bois-Reymond: Neuroscience, Self, and Society in Nineteenth-Century Germany. As described on the New Books in STS website,
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.
The full interview can be found online here.
Gabriel Finkelstein, Associate Professor of History at the University of Colorado Denver, has just published a volume on the life and work of nineteenth century physiologist Emil du Bois-Reymond. An important figure in uncovering the electrical nature of nerve activity, du Bois-Reymond is positioned by Finkelstein as central to the development of modern neuroscience. Emil du Bois-Remond: Neuroscience, Self, and Society in Nineteenth-Century Germany is described on the publisher’s website as follows,
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.