Prospects for a unified historiography of the neurosciences

Samuel H. Greenblatt
Brown University, Pawtucket, RI, USA

One definition of "historiography" is: an historical framework for understanding the development of a field through analysis of the concepts that are central to the field's coherency, i.e., its conceptual foundations. Using this definition, we can ask three related questions: (1) Can we actually create a useful framework? (2) Is there anything unique about the methodological principles of neurohistoriography? and (3) Do we care if we have a unified framework? In answer to the first question, I will present an heuristic outline of the conceptual foundations of the clinical and experimental neurosciences in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It proposes that localization is the conceptual foundation of all of the neurosciences in that period. Whether this framework is sufficiently accurate to be useful will be up for discussion. The answer to the second question is: not exactly, but the constant intrusion of the mind/body problem does require that the neurosciences be analyzed with this cultural factor always in mind. Third, we do need to care about a unified framework for understanding the historical development of the neurosciences. I think that such is possible, but if further historical analysis shows that it is not, then we will have to try to understand the implications of that negative conclusion, i.e, we will have to question the coherency of our entire enterprise.

Symposium: The Historiography of the Neurosciences
Saturday, 21 June 1997, 10.15 - 10.45

Second Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and 6th Meeting of the European Club on the History of Neurology (ECHN)

Leiden, The Netherlands