Stephen Walter Ranson's organized research unit at Northwestern University Medical School: its leadership style

Neuroscience History Archives, University of California, Los Angeles

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, progress in knowledge of the brain was facilitated by the famous Continental and British ORUs and "schools" where basic research on nervous systems, from invertebrate to human, was the core pursuit of investigators trained in the biomedical sciences. In Germany, for example, the Edinger Institute at Frankfort, formalized in 1914; the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research of Cecile and Oskar Vogt, in Berlin-Buch, Neustadt (1914); and Wilhelm Wundt's department of physiological psychology at Leipzig, since 1879, easily come to mind. The influence of those and many other centers on American neuroscience was the direct result of visits of various lengths by Americans (and other nationalities) intent on learning more about nervous systems. The ORUs subsequently established by Henry Donaldson, Wilder Penfield, and John Fulton (1930) were among many others.

At least one productive American center made its immediate mark in that era while preserving a decidedly old-world type of leadership style, the Institute of Neurology of Stephen Walter Ranson (1880-1942). He had had two sojourns abroad before he organized his institute at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago in 1928, and was already an established investigator and teacher. The team he subsequently assembled consisted of six scientists plus technicians and custodians. His revival of the use of the Horsley-Clarke stereotaxic apparatus in exploration of the hypothalamus and other subcortical regions brought a continuous stream of graduate and postdoctoral students and visitors. Ranson's sudden death in 1942 precipitated the gradual dismantling of the institute. It is informative to speculate on what made the short-lived institute an outstanding influence in neuroscience while its leader adhered to a tightly controlled system of management.

Session II -- Poster Session
Sunday, 2 June 2002, 10:00 - 11:00 am

Seventh Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Los Angeles, California, USA