Neurobiology

Neurobiology

The study of the nervous system—especially the brain—is also an interdisciplinary venture, a fact very much reflected by Harvard’s Neurobiology concentration. Described by the 49 Book as “arguably the least understood and most important area of biology,” it can involve not only the life sciences but also social sciences and humanities like Psychology and Philosophy, giving students “a new perspective on what it means to be a human.” The Mind, Brain, and Behavior track of the concentration and its emphasis on multiple viewpoints to the same issues is evinced by Houghton’s own collection of materials related to the study of the mind, which often serve multiple purposes in many different fields and appear elsewhere in this guide. Below are only some of the collection’s items that can be used by Neurobiology concentrators in both of the field’s tracks to conduct research on the nervous system.

Students might want to begin their exploration of the library with a work by one of the precursors of modern anatomy. Andreas Vesalius’ Anatomes Totivs (Typ 515.65.868, 007231964) and its exquisite engravings depicting the many facets of human anatomy include plates dedicated to the nervous system, an awe-inspiring feat with surprising amounts of detail. Vesalius overthrew medieval anatomy with his 1543 treatise De Humani Corporis Fabrica (Typ 565.43.869, 006570696), inaugurating a new age for the study of the human body. His works must be perused by any student pursuing that same area of knowledge, especially those interested in medical school.

Neurobiology concentrators coming to Houghton can also find items that belonged to the library of one of the field’s giants: William James, a former Harvard professor and, arguably, one of the most important psychologists in the history of the field. Items from his holdings that could be of interest to concentrators include the 1883 American Journal of Neurology and Psychiatry (Phil 10.33, 002016563), which displays the state of progress of Neurobiology and its related fields at the end of the nineteenth century; a 1891 essay titled “Hughlings-Jackson on the Connection between the Mind and the Brain” (WJ 400.5.8, 006500146), a question neurobiologists, psychologists, and philosophers still ask today; a volume titled Health through Self-Control in Thinking, Breathing, Eating (Phil 6128.38.2, 005298514), perhaps a more unorthodox volume that relates to Neurobiology; and two French treatises about the nervous system, L’Instinct, Ses Rapports avec la Vie et l’Intelligence (Phil 5819.2.7, 005493438) and Les Fonctions Supérieures du Système Nerveux (Phil 5242.26 , 004497469).

Another treasure trove of material related to Neurobiology is the papers of W. V. Quine (MS Am 2587, 008937558), another Harvard professor and one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century. Quine collected many academic papers by other scholars related to Neurobiology and displaying the subject’s interaction with other fields of inquiry. The most relevant ones were all produced by Daniel Clement Dennett, another pivotal twentieth-century philosopher but also a cognitive scientist. They include “Exploring the Space of the Turing Test” (1629) and “The Practical Requirements for Making a Conscious Robot” (1640), both of which can be studied in conjunction with Computer Science, and “The Where and When of Consciousness in the Brain” (1642), which, once more, asks a question that scholars from multiple fields are still attempting to answer.

Finally, for students interested in the meandering history of the study of the brain, Houghton holds many materials about phrenology—an unscientific practice that is obsolete today—including an illustrated handbook about the field that contains a phrenological exam performed on celebrated writer Louisa May Alcott (*AC85.Aℓ191.Zz875w, 009779572).