We often think of history as being about the “big” stories—wars that shift borders, inventions that accelerate progress, the lives of great teachers and philosophers. But outside of these landmark events, it’s the collective day-to-day work of individuals, those we don’t always read about in the history books, that shifts the trajectory of history.

This is certainly the case with neurodiagnostics. Not many people outside of the world of electroencephalography may know who Hans Berger was, but his work recording electrical activity in the brain changed the trajectory of neuroscience, as does the work of those who come after him to refine his discovery and its medical applications.

This is why the ASET Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) plays such an important role. From Berger’s initial discovery, to the founding of ASET in 1959, to its 60th anniversary celebration at the 2019 ASET Annual Conference in 2019, a rich history deserves to be preserved. Besides a wonderful narrative history on the ASET website, the HAC is working in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution on two important initiatives.

The first of these is the ASET Voices of History project. The HAC has interviewed many of the technologists, physicians, engineers, and scientists who have contributed to the field of neurodiagnostics. The questions for the interviews were written by Katherine Ott, PhD, Curator of the Division of Medicine and Science Division at the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution. With 24 interviews recorded, a treasure trove of primary historical sources have been preserved. You can listen to these interviews on the ASET website.

The second initiative prompted by the HAC’s consultation with the Smithsonian is the ASET Archival Project. Through this project, the HAC is collecting vintage recording equipment and prototypes of emerging technology, as well as other valuable memorabilia from the beginnings of neurodiagnostic technology. Many of these items—big, clunky contraptions that consumed reams of paper—were on display at the 2019 ASET meeting. Seeing these machines shows just how far the field has advanced in its short history (so short that many of the technologists present reminisced about using this equipment earlier in their careers).

Some of these items may be archived at the Smithsonian physically—particularly if they have special historical significance. Others may be digitally archived for virtual display. Items of interest include:

  • Equipment manuals
  • Training manuals
  • Analog tracings
  • Pictures
  • Conference brochures
  • Comprehensive bibliography of most influential articles
  • Prototypes of equipment being currently developed

If you have any of these items or other items of historical interest in the field of neurodiagnostics that you would like to donate to the effort, or if you know of someone whose interview you believe would add value to the ASET Voices of History Project, contact Connie Kubiak.

By preserving this history, ASET will help those in the future understand the value and effort that went into developing the field of neurodiagnostics so that it won’t be forgotten. Hopefully this effort will inspire future generations to carry the torch and continue to improve the field to make their mark in history, too.

Stay up-to-date with the latest Neurology Insights content