Electrophysiology in mid-20th century America: I. EEG and the beginnings of clinical neuroscience

David MILLETT1, Lawrence KRUGER2, and Russell A. JOHNSON3, 4
1Department of Neurology, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, California, USA; 2Department of Neurobiology, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, California, USA; 3Neuroscience History Archives, Brain Research Institute, University of California, Los Angeles, USA; 4History & SPecial Collections Division, Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, University of California, Los Angeles, USA


The human electroencephalogram (EEG) was pioneered by Hans Berger during the late 1920s. Hallowell Davisís laboratory at Harvard was the setting for the first American demonstration of the alpha rhythm in 1934, followed by the first recording of an ictal EEG by Davis, William Lennox, and Fred and Erna Gibbs. That same year, the human EEG was independently pursued by Herbert Jasper at Brown University, by Lee Travis at the University of Iowa, and in Alfred Loomisís private laboratory in New York. In many ways, this enthusiastic assembly of investigators and their work on the EEG laid the foundations of clinical neuroscience in America. First, electroencephalography demonstrated that action currents, the fundamental processes of the nervous system initially demonstrated in peripheral nerve preparations, were applicable to higher brain function and correlated with different states of consciousness. Second, early work on the human EEG demonstrated that neurological diseases could be classified, understood, and possibly treated on the basis of abnormal electrographic patterns, making EEG applicable to both normal and pathological brain function. Finally, work on the human EEG during the 1930s promised advances in the treatment of epilepsy, and provided rational justification for the nascent field of American neurology and its practitioners who attempted to separate themselves from their continental roots in neuropsychiatry and neuropathology.


Session IV -- Electrophysiology
Sunday, 27 June 2004, 1:30 pm

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

Montreal, Quebec, Canada