Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Arnold L. Towe Collection

We're happy to announce a new accession to the archives, the Arnold L. Towe Collection. Although the collection is still unprocessed, we can say that the approximately six linear feet of materials are primarily reprints and other research resources pertaining to the somatosensory system, and that many of the reprints are signed by the author(s) to Towe.

The collection's journey to Historical Collections & Archives, and the path we took in deciding to keep these materials, are both somewhat unusual.

Arnold L. Towe (1927-2002) was a noted neuroscientist who devoted the better part of his career to investigations of the behavior of single neurons and evoked extracellular field potentials in the somatosensory portion of the central nervous system. A member of the Dept. of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Washington for thirty years, Towe was a mentor, colleague, and friend of many neuroscientists in the United States and elsewhere.

You'll notice that his CV did not include a stint at OHSU, or indeed in Oregon. How these four storage cartons come to the History of Medicine Room? It all starts back in February of this year, when the OHSU Neurological Sciences Institute shuttered its doors. We were invited to come in to the NSI Library to select books for the historical collections; while we were there, we discovered two boxes of archival materials pertaining to the life and work of Robert S. Dow under the desk. A short time later, we received some records of the functioning of the Institute from outgoing director Jeri Janowsky, PhD.

As NSI staff cleaned out the last of the spaces in the building, the boxes of Towe's research came to light. Bobby Heagerty, coordinator of the Portland BRAINet Friends Group, secured the materials in the Dept. of Neurology and contacted us for delivery. When the boxes arrived, I began looking for information on Towe and his possible connection to OHSU. After a few conversations with senior neurologists in Portland, I was given the name of Dr. Robert Grimm, a neurologist in practice here at Legacy. Not knowing Dr. Grimm, I sought an introduction from a colleague, and--at long last--had a chance to speak with him directly last week.

It was Bob Grimm who had Towe's papers brought here to Portland; after his mentor's death, Grimm felt it was imperative that his research be saved, if possible. Why did Towe have so many reprints, when some researchers are content to rely on databases to relocate old citations? According to Grimm, Towe was adamant about the necessity of collecting and maintaining reprints, requesting them directly from the authors before the print was dry on the journal pages. We have a few faculty like that here at OHSU; perhaps you, too, know some where you live.

Dr. Grimm, and we here at HC&A, agree that this collection not only sheds light on Towe's research and work habits, but also provides a window into a small, tight-knit community of specialists, tracing the lines of scholarly communication between researchers across the globe. We think that future scholars of the history of science will also agree, and so we're happy to devote a little shelf space to this notable northwest neurologist.

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