Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Stepping from Belgium to the United States and Back: The Conceptualization and Impact of the Harvard Step Test, 1942-2012

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Stepping from Belgium to the United States and Back: The Conceptualization and Impact of the Harvard Step Test, 1942-2012

Article excerpt

Purpose: This article examines the contribution of the Belgian-American exercise physiologist Lucien Brouha in developing the Harvard Step Test (HST) at the pioneering Harvard Fatigue Laboratory (HFL) during the Second World War and provides a better understanding of the importance of transnational relations concerning scientific progress. Method: Analysis of sources in the University Archives of the State University in Liege (Belgium), the Archives and Documentation Centre of the Sportimonium at Hofstade (Belgium), the Harvard Business School Archives at Baker Library (Cambridge, MA), the Harvard Medical School Archives at Countway Library (Cambridge, MA), and the Brouha and Shaler private family archives (Sutton, VT). Results: The outbreak of the Second World War shifted research at the interdisciplinary HFL toward the field of military physiology and resulted in the transfer of Brouha from Belgium to the HFL. Brouha's personal and academic experiences made him the right man in the right place to develop the HST in 1942. The HST--which has celebrated its 70th anniversary--was of immediate academic and practical significance during and after the war. Conclusions: Brouha' s case demonstrates the importance of personal experiences, transnational relations, and interdisciplinary research settings for the establishment of scientific (sub)disciplines. Studying internal scientific evolutions in relation to personal and work experiences of "mobile" and therefore often "forgotten" researchers like Brouha is necessary to better understand and interpret evolutions in science and corresponding processes of academic and social mobility.

Keywords: Harvard Fatigue Laboratory, history of exercise physiology, physical fitness testing, transnational scientific interaction

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On the 75th anniversary of the Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport (RQES), Hamill and Haymes (2005) reviewed all the articles on biomechanics and exercise physiology ever published in RQES. They found that one of the earliest studies dedicated to exercise physiology published in RQES came from the Belgian-American Lucien Brouha (1943c), who described how to implement the Harvard Step Test (HST)--also called the "Brouha Test" Bookwalter, 1948; Hall, 1948; Segers, 1955; Sharma, 1994)--to predict physical fitness for strenuous physical effort of normal, healthy persons. One of the aims of this article is to examine Brouha's contribution in developing the HST at the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory (HFL) during the Second World War.

Lawrence Joseph Henderson established the HFL in 1927 as part of the Harvard School of Business Administration with the aim of investigating physiological, applied physiological, and sociological topics related to fatigue. Regarding its physiological research objectives, the HFL would tackle problems concerning the efficiency of labor, the preservation of health, the establishment of standards of normality in conditions of stress, etc. (Cannon, 1941). Despite its short existence (1927-1947), this prestigious, productive, and unique laboratory would reshape the field of exercise physiology and become a model for interdisciplinary research. Many authors consider it a milestone in the worldwide history of exercise physiology (Buskirk & Tipton, 1997; Hamill & Haymes, 2005; Ivy, 2007; McArdle, Katch, & Katch, 2007; Powers & Howley, 1997). After its demise in 1947, the HFL served as an example for several second- and third-generation laboratories initiated by its former researchers (Buskirk & Tipton, 1997; Drury, 1999; Horvath & Horvath, 1973). Its unique place in the history of exercise physiology is also because the HFL brought in an influential group of international researchers. Apparently, transnational "scientific migration" already occurred during the first half of the 20th century. At the HFL, the fellow investigators came from 16 different countries, located in Europe, South America, Australia, and Africa. …

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