The Making of a New Research Field: On the Pursuit of Interdisciplinarity in the German Neuromorphological Sciences, 1910–1945

2 May 2012
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

470 Stephens Hall

Event Type

Frank Stanisch
University of Calgary

The “neurosciences” as a research field are currently very widely discussed in academia, public media and even increasingly introduced into seemingly unrelated areas of social discourse in politics, law and economics. Within these discourses, however, the mere existence of the “neurosciences” is mostly taken for granted and barely related back to the specific social, cultural and historical contexts, in which neuroscientific research emerged; this project looks at the making of this burgeoning research field in the early interdisciplinary research centers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland particularly between 1910 and 1945, while trying to lay bare the ground-breaking cultural and scientific dimensions which led to the emergence of “neuroscience” in its modern meaning.

Probably no other single “interdisciplinary” research endeavor has shaped today’s biomedical landscape as much as Francis O. Schmitt’s (1903-1995) “Neuroscience Study Program” at MIT in Boston. With its integrative approach to the neuroscience, Schmitt managed to bring together an international group of eminent researchers from various disciplines and stimulate their productive interaction in the study of the nervous system. But we do not have an adequate historical account as to what caused such interdisciplinary research programs in the first place.

This project therefore presents itself somewhat as archaeology of undoubtedly one of the most powerful “interdisciplinary” areas of the life sciences and as a historiographical attempt to explore and analyze the theoretical as well as cultural determinants that have led to the new research field of the neurosciences as we know it today. In focusing on the problem of interdisciplinarity in the neuromorphological sciences between 1910 and 1945, the impact of three different political and cultural systems (German Imperialism, the experiment of Weimar Democracy, and National Socialism) on the emergence and changes in the modern neurosciences shall be scrutinized in the project, an undertaking that could give further hints as to how important interdisciplinary work has come to be perceived in the neurosciences and their research organization.

This event is sponsored by CSTMS.
Additional sponsorship comes from:  Office for the History of Science and Technology

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