Wednesday, April 25, 2018

New Collection: Casey Bush collection on Robert S. Dow

by John Esh

Dow in New Guinea
New Guinea, undated
I’m proud to say that I recently processed my first official collection and it was put up for the whole world to see on Archives West. In collaboration with my coworker Rosie Yanosko, we pored through the life of Robert Stone Dow, a world renowned neuroscientist and longtime Portland resident. We organized, and then processed the records for the OHSU Historical Collections & Archives. Dr. Dow has been posted about before on this blog; I’ll give you a quick recap of his life as the eminent neuroscientist in Oregon.

While born in Wray, Colorado, Dr. Dow was raised in Newberg and McMinnville, Oregon before attending Linfield College where he worked under Dr. James MacNab as a lab assistant. It was here he gained the attention of Dr. Olof Larsell, and it was under Larsell’s tutelage that Dr. Dow gained a passion for the inner workings of the cerebellum and both his Ph.D. and M.D. from Oregon State University. After marrying and travelling while pursuing a post-graduate education across two continents, Dr. Dow returned to his home state where he built the first electroencephalogram (EEG) in Oregon, as well as the first neurology practice in the state. Furthermore, having established the Neurological Sciences Institute at Good Samaritan Hospital, Dow continued his research into epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, strokes, and Parkinson’s, among other brain related maladies, before dying at the age of 87 in 1995.
There are other collections about Dr. Dow in the OHSU Archives, but this particular one was donated by Casey Bush, a poet, writer, and the biographer of Dr. Dow with his book entitled Inside the Black Box: A Biography of Oregon Neuroscientist Robert Stone Dow. While this biography has never been published (evidenced by a handful of rejection letters from various publishers), a copy is available in this very collection for anyone to read.

Dow in New Guinea
New Guinea, undated
Along with his biography, the collection consists of correspondence, presentations, photographs, and publications of the famous neuroscientist. Some of the content that I found most interesting to my previous anthropological schooling was Dr. Dow’s presentation, Kuru: The Mysterious Disease of New Guinea, which he made in 1965 after spending time there with the Fore people attempting to deduce the cause of the disease. Kuru is an affliction most common among said tribes and directly translates as “trembling” and is also known as the “laughing sickness,” which we now believe to have been transferred during cannibalistic funerary rites when the brain was ingested. As well, the people of the Fore would often enlist sorcerers to craft talismans for them with the intent of inflicting kuru upon those they hated. Thankfully the practice ended in 1960, but the long incubation time of the disease (10-50 years) meant that only recently has the disease completely died out.

The Casey Bush collection on Robert S. Dow provides a fascinating look into Robert Dow’s busy life and work and is definitely worth the time to look through, or perhaps even request a copy of his biography from, to learn a little more about the history of the medical profession in Oregon.