A. Clifford Barger Papers Open to Research

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce the opening of the A. Clifford Barger papers, 1803-1995 (inclusive) 1968-1995 (bulk) to researchers. The papers reflect the professional and personal work of Clifford Barger (1917-1996), a research physiologist who spent his career at Harvard Medical School. Barger’s research interests focused on the cardiovascular and renal systems; he was involved in research which did much to elucidate the mechanisms by which sufferers from certain cardiac disorders retain fluids.The papers reflect the personal and include correspondence; lectures; publications; administrative records relating to Barger’s activities as a faculty member at Harvard Medical School; records relating to Barger’s involvement with professional organizations, primarily the American Physiological Society and the Massachusetts Society for Medical Research; and audio-visual material, primarily films.

Clifford Barger was born in 1917 in Greenfield, Massachusetts, and entered Harvard University at age 18. During his senior year, he began to study muscle physiology in the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory and immediately after receiving his B.A. in 1939, he entered Harvard Medical School. His first medical internship, at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, was interrupted by World War II military service. Barger was an Army first lieutenant and worked at the Climatic Research Laboratory in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on the protection of soldiers in cold climates. Barger received his M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1943 during his military service. He returned to the Brigham at the end of the war and entered the Department of Physiology as a research fellow under Eugene M. Landis (1901-1987). Barger began teaching at the same time he held clinical appointments first at the Brigham and then at Children’s Hospital. Barger was promoted to a full professorship in physiology in 1961 and received the Robert Henry Pfeiffer Professorship in 1963. From 1974 to 1976, Barger served as chair of the Department of Physiology. Barger retired from Harvard Medical School in 1987.

Barger spent most of his research career investigating physiological questions involving the human heart and kidneys, including the processes of congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, and renovascular hypertension. He was among the first to describe the process by which certain nephrons in the kidney retain salt while those in a different part of the organ lose it, a process of critical importance to blood pressure and heart health. The initial research had been undertaken to try and explain why patients with congestive heart failure retain water and electrolytes. To help explain this, Barger studied the renin-angiotensin (sometimes also called the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone) system in the kidney. This system is part of the physiological mechanism for maintaining proper blood pressure and can work to compensate for some types of heart failure. Barger also investigated the physiology of coronary artery disease and the pathogenesis of the coronary arterial plaques; in this area, Barger worked to confirm previous results from pathologist Milton C. Winternitz (1885-1959).

From the 1960s on, Barger was involved in independent efforts by both Harvard Medical School and the American Physiological Society to recruit and retain minority students and faculty. He was named co-chair of the Porter Development Committee of the American Physiological Society in 1966; this committee distributed funds to support Porter Fellows, students from underrepresented communities studying physiology at institutions across the United States. Barger was also an enthusiastic historian of medicine and published articles on William T. Porter (1862-1949), founder of the Harvard Apparatus Company which funded the Porter Fellows, and Walter B. Cannon (1871-1945). Barger was co-author with Elin L. Wolfe and Saul Benison (1920-2006) of a two-volume biography of Cannon; the second volume was in preparation when Barger died in 1996 and was completed by his co-authors.

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