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Oral History of the American Society for Neurochemistry
Organized and edited by Claude F. Baxter, ASN Historian

The past 30+ years have been exciting times in the history of Neurochemistry. The story of the American Society for Neurochemistry (ASN) has been one of continual transitions and conceptual changes. Just think of the vocabulary that has evolved in those years: plasticity, biofeedback, uptake and release mechanisms, receptors, transporters, storage sites, ion channels, inhibitory transmitters, compartmentalization ---- the list goes on and on. None of these words were part of our vocabulary four decades ago. In another generation many of them may be completely obsolete or may have acquire new meanings. Yet at the time of their first usage these terms and what they stood for really excited our imagination.

In relating the History of Neurochemistry and the ASN, we must endeavor to transmit to future generations the dynamic nature and the many innovations in our discipline that marked the latter part of the 20th century. Few Neurochemists aspire to be Historians and, with rare exceptions Historians are not dedicated to the field of Neurochemistry. How then can we pass on to future generations this creative and intellectual excitement that we, as Neurochemists, experienced when our field suddenly opened up in the last 30+ years of the 20's century ? How do we express the turmoil, the joy, the camaraderie, the common goals and the conflicts that we experienced as we founded the ASN, our own professional organization ? Few of these experiences can be gleaned by reading research papers, yet they should be recorded.

In correspondence with Kuni Suzuki about this workshop, he referred to himself as "a dinosaur of the ASN". By implication that term applies to most of us in this room; those of us who were present at the birth, or slightly after the birth of our Society. Kuni's self-description directed my thinking to dinosaurs and their legacy. " What skeletal remains and what footprints in the sands of time"- I wondered- "will we, the Neurochemist dinosaurs, leave behind, for future scholars to study and draw their conclusions ? Will we leave behind the equivalent of dinosaur eggs of knowledge that will intrigue and impress future generations, or will we leave behind just some coprolites (a polite archeological term which describes fossilized crap)?"

Ideally, the history of any group such as the ASN should be vital and alive, like a fleshed out body, not like a skeleton. That requires descriptions of the personalities of our leaders, the collegiality and the humor of the group and the entrepreneurial spirit of its members. A description of how our members built the organizational structure of the ASN and their motivation for doing all this work, deserves to be recorded. The founding of the ASN and the growth of Neurochemistry as a viable profession in the last four decades of the 20th century were at times helped or hindered by changing social, economic and scientific conditions in the Western Hemisphere. This interrelationship continues to affect our profession and deserves historical recognition.

All of these considerations played a part in structuring today's workshop. As you will note, one workshop can only scratch the surface of these topics and conceivably it may wet your appetite for future doses of ASN Oral History sessions.

  1. Some Thoughts about ASN's Past and Future by Bernard W. Agranoff
  2. An Anecdotal, Historic Look at ASN Founder: Jordi Folch Pi and the Award Bearing His Name by Marjorie B Lees
  3. Was the ASN a Myelin Club? by Marion E. Smith
  4. The Creation of the Basic Neurochemistry Textbook by George J. Siegel (comment by Bernard W. Agranoff)
  5. History of a Joint Venture: The Journal of Neurochemistry by Kunihiko Suzuki (comment by Lloyd A. Horrocks)
  6. Some Anecdotes about ASN Members by William T. Norton (another anecdote by Claude F. Baxter)
  7. The Evolution of the ASN Standing Rules: (1976 - 1982) by Claude F. Baxter
  8. Neurochemistry: Then and Now by John P. Blass
  9. A short biography of Marian Kies

I would like to thank, once again, the speakers and participants for their contributions. Their presentations were taped, transcribed, corrected and revised. They were edited only when necessary. These contributions and the pictures have already enriched the ASN Archives immeasurably. My profound thanks extend to David Shine. Without his expert and patient help this electronic publication would not have been possible Only three of the featured Speakers at the workshop failed to return their corrected transcripts (and pictures). Regrettably, their contributions could not be included in this publication.

If this experiment at recalling the unrecorded or otherwise lost history of the ASN is repeated, then the missing stories 1) about the "The fraternal ASN and the establishment of our Society in South America", 2) about the "Women in Neurochemistry: their established role in the ASN and the Marian Kies Award" and "The Evolution of ASN Standing Rules Since 1983", should be included. Many more stories, old and new, could be told about the ASN and its Members. The older generations of professional Neurochemists are rapidly disappearing from our ranks and the youngest generation, is being integrated, by necessity, into the fabric of the many newer and different disciplines that now represent the Neurosciences. The old (original) ASN is slowly being transformed into a new and more timely ASN. If more of the "original" ASN Oral History is to be retained, then we should not wait another decade before organizing another ASN Oral History workshop. But it is for ASN members to decide if that objective is worth the effort.

Claude F Baxter

ASN Historian,

November, 2001

The American Society for Neurochemistry is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt Non-Profit Organization Registered in the District of Columbia

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