Tom Quick

History in the Laboratory: Digitization, Education, and Design at the Laboratory of Physiology, Anatomy, and Genetics, University of Oxford

Neuroscience has attracted broad-ranging academic interest over the past few decades. Less attention has been paid however to the strategies that scholars without physiological or psychological training seeking to engage with these disciplines have adopted. Given the existence of often asymmetric power relations between physiologists, psychologists, and their prospective humanities-based collaborators, such attention is a desirable corollary to any interdisciplinary project involving neuroscience. This paper will thereby relate one potential case study through which collaborative endeavour between neuroscience and the humanities might be better understood.

In 2014, the department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at the University of Oxford began scanning a set of microscope slides collected by the eminent neuroscientist Charles Scott Sherrington. Though nominally a digitization project, the motivations for creating digital images of these slides were simultaneously didactic (teaching neuroscience), historical (exploring the practices of a laboratory ‘great’), and technical (creating a means which the slides could be displayed and interacted with). This paper will relate ways in which the diverse interests and concerns of physiology teachers, historians, and web designers were negotiated during the production of a web tool, ‘CSlide’, that sought to accommodate the interests of all involved. It will suggest that the project’s focus on a set of technical design requirements, rather than normative claims concerning either neuroscience or history, was a significant enabling factor in the project’s success.