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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c253

David H. Hubel Papers,

The David H. Hubel Papers, 1953-2005 (inclusive), 1966-1991 (bulk) record the research, publications, teaching, and professional activities of David H. Hubel, John Franklin Enders University Professor of Neurobiology, Emeritus, Harvard University, and Nobel Laureate for Physiology or Medicine (1981). The bulk of the collection falls between 1966-1991, and contains raw research data, primarily photographs and negatives, notes, some protocols and illustrations and writings resulting from Hubel’s research into information processing in the visual systems of the brain. The collection also contains travel records and correspondence associated with Hubel’s professional activities, grants management files, Harvard Medical School committee records, reprints, equipment brochures and manuals, and extensive topical and correspondence files resulting from his leadership roles in the Society for Neuroscience.


  • 1953-2005 (inclusive),
  • Majority of material found within 1966-1991

Conditions Governing Access

Access requires advance notice. Access to personal and patient information is restricted for 80 years from the date of creation. These restrictions appear in Series VI and Series XII. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult the Public Services Librarian for further information.

The David H. Hubel Papers are stored offsite except for box 48 which is housed in the Center for the History of Medicine's stacks. and one flat file folder in XL005. Researchers are advised to contact reference staff for more information concerning retrieval of material.

Conditions Governing Use

The Harvard Medical Library does not hold copyright on all the materials in the collection. Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be directed to the Public Services Librarian. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from the Public Services Librarian are responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations that hold copyright. Reference Services and Access Information.


69 cubic feet ((35 record cartons, 20 document boxes, 5 half document boxes, 2 legal half document box, 11 flat document boxes, 15 oversize flat document boxes and 1 oversize flat file folder).)

The David H. Hubel Papers, 1953-2005 (inclusive), 1966-1991 (bulk) record the research, publications, teaching, and professional activities of David H. Hubel, John Franklin Enders University Professor of Neurobiology, Emeritus and Nobel Laureate for Physiology or Medicine (1981).

The bulk of the collection falls between 1966-1991, and contains Hubel’s extensive manuscripts, research data, teaching records and travel files. The Manuscript files and Original drawings and experiments series together represent the research findings made by Hubel and Wiesel, and later by Hubel with other collaborators as drafted, revised and presented or published for sharing with the scientific community. The manuscripts series includes journal articles, chapters and books, teaching lectures, and conference and meeting presentations, providing a comprehensive overview of Hubel and Wiesel’s research collaboration. Supporting raw research data are photographs, negatives, X-rays and drawings, primarily of monkey and cat brains. A limited amount of written notes documenting lab procedures, protocols, plotted data and data printouts are found in this series. Motion picture films record cellular activity in cats and monkeys. Grant files, correspondence, topical files, and Harvard Medical School records chronicle Hubel’s administrative responsibilities, including Hubel’s involvement in curriculum review and planning for the medical school. Hubel’s Teaching records comprehensively include lecture notes, slides, handouts, homework, lab procedures and class lists illustrating his career as an educator in neurobiology and neurophysiology, neurology and neuroanatomy. Renowned as a presenter and guest professor, extensive Travel files chronicle Hubel’s lectures, involvement in professional organizations and his scientific contributions as a recipient of numerous awards. The original drawings and experiments series contains illustrations, transparencies, slides, charts and posters used by Hubel for presentations and lectures. Society for Neuroscience presidential files contain primarily committee meeting records and reference materials such as society position papers, scientific community and anti-vivisectionist opinions on animal research and animal rights.

Restricted materials consisting of student grades, class lists and student evaluative documents are found in Series VI, and student applicant evaluations and recommendations are filed in Series XII. These materials are restricted for 80 years from the date of creation.

Biographical Note

David H. Hubel, 1926-, John Franklin Enders University Professor of Neurobiology, Emeritus and Nobel Laureate for Physiology or Medicine (1981), began his career at Harvard Medical School in 1959 as an Associate in Neurophysiology and Neuropharmacology. In 1960 Hubel received an Assistant Professorship; in 1965 he was appointed Professor of Physiology. Hubel served briefly as chairman of the Department of Physiology in 1966, returning to the newly formed Department of Neurobiology to resume full time research and teaching. In 1967 Hubel was named George Packer Berry Professor of Neurobiology. Hubel and co-recipient Torsten Wiesel were awarded the 1981 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of information processing in the visual system, which led to treatments for several forms of blindness in children. In 1982 Hubel became the John Franklin Enders University Professor of Neurobiology, now Emeritus since his retirement in 2000. Hubel continues full time teaching, advising and research activities at Harvard Medical School, the latter which he undertakes with Margaret Livingstone in his lab in the Department of Neurobiology.

Studying honors mathematics and physics, Hubel graduated from McGill University in 1947. He went on to the Faculty of Medicine at McGill, receiving his medical degree in 1951. At Montreal General Hospital Hubel completed a year of rotating internship, then a one-year neurology residency with Herbert Jasper at the Montreal Neurological Institute. Following this residency, Hubel completed a year of clinical neurophysiology. After completing a one year residency in neurology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Hubel was called for military service, and assigned to Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Neuropsychiatry Division. At Walter Reed, Hubel worked for six months with Michelangelo Fuortes on cat spinal cord research. He then began his own research in experimental neurophysiology comparing the spontaneous firing of single cortical cells in sleeping and waking cats. To facilitate his investigations, Hubel designed and developed a tungsten microelectrode and a technique for using it to record individual cell responses to stimuli. Using his electrode, Hubel was the first researcher “to see cells in an alert cat respond to any kind of environmental stimulation.” This invention facilitated extracellular research in many other laboratories. In 1958 Stephen Kuffler invited Hubel to continue his research at the Wilmer Institute of Ophthalmology, Johns Hopkins Hospital. At Johns Hopkins, Hubel began collaborating with Torsten Wiesel, a partnership which continued for twenty-five years. Together they began mapping receptive fields of cells in the visual cortex. In 1959 Hubel and Wiesel moved with Kuffler and his other research teams to Harvard Medical School, Department of Pharmacology as Associates. Hubel quickly discovered his passion for teaching. In 1966 this sub-department of Pharmacology was renamed and administratively separated to form the Department of Neurobiology. It was the first of its kind at Harvard Medical School and in the country, bringing together members from other traditional departments to create an inter-disciplinary approach, in this case with specialists in central nervous neurophysiology, synaptic neurophysiology and neurochemistry.

Over the course of their collaboration at Harvard Medical School, Hubel and Wiesel’s work with cats and monkeys demonstrated that a major function of the striate cortex was to elaborate orientation selectivity. They also identified simple and complex receptive fields, discovered end-stopped (hypercomplex) cells, differences in and functions of cortical and geniculate cells, investigated mammalian color neurophysiology by examining color sensitivities of the different spatial subdivisions of receptive fields in monkeys and described ocular dominance and orientation columns in detail. While mapping adult animal brains, Hubel and Wiesel also began to investigate the development of the visual system. They conducted research on kittens to determine whether the responses of cortical cells were innate or developed, and to learn about the effects of visual deprivation. Hubel and Wiesel discovered that visual deprivation affected cortical development, leading to an understanding that simple disuse of the optic nerve would affect anatomical development of the visual cortex. This discovery, along with their earlier physiological mapping research led to the finding of the importance of early treatment for strabismus, amblyopia and congenital cataracts in children, and resulted in their being named co-recipients of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, an award they shared with psychobiologist Roger W. Sperry.

Hubel has received numerous awards and recognitions, including a term spanning from 1971-1996 in the Society of Fellows, Harvard University. In 1971 Hubel was awarded the Research to Prevent Blindness Trustees Award for Outstanding Ophthalmic Achievement, shared with Wiesel. In 1972 the two collaborators also were recipients of the Louis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Sciences and the Jules Stein Eye Institute Award for distinguished ophthalmic research. In 1978 Hubel, Wiesel and Vernon Mountcastle were co-recipients of the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize for Biology or Biochemistry. Hubel is a past president of the Society for Neuroscience. Hubel has held numerous prestigious fellowships at Harvard Medical School. Presently he is collaborating with Margaret Livingstone, working with the primary visual cortex to learn “how the activation of brain cells is related to an animal’s environment and behavior.”

Series and Subseries in the Collection

Immediate Source of Acquisition

  1. Accession number 2007-050 donated to the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine by David H. Hubel on May 2, 2007.
  2. Accession number 2008-014 donated to the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine by David H. Hubel on August 20, 2007.
  3. Accession number 2010-003 donated to the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine by David H. Hubel on September 11, 2009.

Processing Information

Processed in increments from 2007 May through 2014 November by Bryan Sutherland, Michael Dello Iacono, Elizabeth Cousins and Dale Stinchcomb.

Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine analyzed, arranged, and described the records and created a finding aid to improve access to the collection. The original order of the records was retained as closely as possible to Hubel’s original filing system. For some of the series, the distinction is unclear between records put in multiple filing systems. Duplicate records and records that did not meet the collection policy of the Center for the History of Medicine were discarded. Folder titles were transcribed from originals.
Link to catalog
Hubel, David H., 1926-. Papers, 1953-2005 (inclusive), 1966-1991 (bulk): Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.

Repository Details

Part of the Countway Library of Medicine Repository

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