All posts by Jacy Young

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a doctoral student in the History and Theory of Psychology program at York University. Her dissertation explores the early history of questionnaires in American psychology.

New Book: Susan Lamb’s Pathologist of the Mind

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Historian of Medicine Susan Lamb has recently published Pathologist of the Mind: Adolf Meyer and the Origins of American Psychiatry. As described on the Johns Hopkins University Press website,

During the first half of the twentieth century, Adolf Meyer was the most authoritative and influential psychiatrist in the United States. In 1908, when the Johns Hopkins Hospital established the first American university clinic devoted to psychiatry—still a nascent medical specialty at the time—Meyer was selected to oversee the enterprise. The Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic opened in 1913, and Meyer served as psychiatrist-in-chief at the hospital until 1941.

In Pathologist of the Mind, S. D. Lamb explores how Meyer used his powerful position to establish psychiatry as a clinical science that operated like the other academic disciplines at the country’s foremost medical school. In addition to successfully arguing for a scientific and biological approach to mental illness, Meyer held extraordinary sway over state policies regarding the certification of psychiatrists. He also trained hundreds of specialists who ultimately occupied leadership positions and made significant contributions in psychiatry, neurology, experimental psychology, social work, and public health.

Although historians have long recognized Meyer’s authority, his concepts and methods have never before received a systematic historical analysis. His convoluted theory of “psychobiology,” along with his notoriously ineffective attempts to explain it in print, continue to baffle many clinicians. Pathologist of the Mind aims to rediscover Meyerian psychiatry by eavesdropping on Meyer’s informal and private conversations with his patients and colleagues. Weaving together private correspondence and uniquely detailed case histories, Lamb examines Meyer’s efforts to institute a clinical science of psychiatry in the United States—one that harmonized the expectations of scientific medicine with his concept of the person as a biological organism and mental illness as an adaptive failure. The first historian ever granted access to these exceptional medical records, Lamb offers a compelling new perspective on the integral but misunderstood legacy of Adolf Meyer.

Full details on the volume can be found here.

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NYT Retro Report: “Long After Sybil”

The New York Times‘s Retro Report has produced a short documentary on the now infamous case of Sybil. As the article accompanying the documentary notes,

The “Sybil” story began in the mid-1950s. At its center were the Minnesota-born Ms. Mason and her intense relationship, first in the Midwest and later in New York, with a psychoanalyst, Cornelia B. Wilbur. Dr. Wilbur’s determination that Ms. Mason had 16 personalities — people of varying manner and ages, including two who were male — did not come about in a vacuum. She was well aware of “The Three Faces of Eve,” a 1954 report by two psychiatrists who worked with a woman said to have had three distinct personalities. (As Eve in a 1957 film based on that study, Joanne Woodward won an Academy Award for best actress. Years later, she did a neat Hollywood pivot by playing the psychiatrist in the first movie version of “Sybil,” with Sally Field as the patient.)

Dr. Wilbur did not write up her findings in some dry professional journal. Instead, she went looking for a large audience, and enlisted a writer, Flora Rheta Schreiber, to produce what became a blockbuster. But as the years passed, challengers began to speak up. One was Herbert Spiegel, a New York psychiatrist who said that he had treated Ms. Mason when Dr. Wilbur was on vacation. Dr. Spiegel described his patient not as a sufferer of multiple personality disorder but, rather, as a readily suggestible “hysteric.” A harsher judgment was rendered in the 1990s by Robert Rieber, a psychologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a New York City school where Ms. Schreiber taught English. After listening to tape recordings that he said Ms. Schreiber had given him, he concluded that “it is clear from Wilbur’s own words that she was not exploring the truth but rather planting the truth as she wanted it to be.” Debbie Nathan, a writer interviewed for this Retro Report documentary, piled on still more skepticism in her 2011 book, “Sybil Exposed.” Perhaps inevitably in a dispute of this sort, counter-revisionists then emerged to denounce the doubters and to defend “Sybil” as rooted in reality.

The full documentary can be viewed online here.

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Dec. 1st Talk! BPS History of Psych Disciplines Seminar Series

The British Psychological Society’History of Psychology Centre, in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines, has announced the next talk as part of its autumn BPS History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series. On December 1st, Marcia Holmes of Birkbeck College will be speaking on “Performing Proficiency: Psychological Experiments on Man-Machine Systems in the United States, 1950-1965.” Full details follow below.

The British Psychological Society History of Psychology Centre in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines

Location: UCL Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, London WC1E 7JG
Time: 6pm-7.30pm

Monday 1 December

Dr Marcia Holmes (Birkbeck College), “Performing Proficiency: Psychological Experiments on Man-Machine Systems in the United States, 1950-1965″

Historians have traced American psychology’s ‘Cognitive Revolution’ – and its defining metaphor of the mind as information processor – to World War II, when the American and British militaries employed experimental psychologists to improve servicemen’s proficiency in operating the war’s complex electronics for communication, command and control. Yet the problem of matching men’s abilities to the design of machines not only encouraged the theorisation of cognition and information processing, it also motivated a new field of applied experimental psychological research, now known as human factors engineering. During the early years of the Cold War, this field of psychological engineering pioneered an elaborate form of behavioural experiment called ‘man–machine systems simulation.’ In this talk I will argue that interpreting these man–machine systems simulations through a cognitive or cybernetic lens, as some historians have done, misses their more direct, contemporary significance. For the psychologists conducting the experiments, these simulations performed the possibility of maintaining liberal-democratic sociability within the Cold War’s regimented networks of military command and control. Recognising the performative aspects of man–machine systems simulations, I argue, sheds new light on the political and epistemological stakes of the Cognitive Revolution in psychology.

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“Hermann von Helmholtz’s Empirico-Transcendentalism Reconsidered”

The most recent issue of Science in Context includes an article on Hermann von Helmholtz that may be of interest to AHP readers.

“Hermann von Helmholtz’s Empirico-Transcendentalism Reconsidered: Construction and Constitution in Helmholtz’s Psychology of the Object,” by Liesbet De Kock. The abstract reads,

This paper aims at contributing to the ongoing efforts to get a firmer grasp of the systematic significance of the entanglement of idealism and empiricism in Helmholtz’s work. Contrary to existing analyses, however, the focal point of the present exposition is Helmholtz’s attempt to articulate a psychological account of objectification. Helmholtz’s motive, as well as his solution to the problem of the object are outlined, and interpreted against the background of his scientific practice on the one hand, and that of empiricist and (transcendental) idealist analyses of experience on the other. The specifically psychological angle taken, not only prompts us to consider figures who have hitherto been treated as having only minor import for Helmholtz interpretation (most importantly J.S. Mill and J.G. Fichte), it furthermore sheds new light on some central tenets of the latter’s psychological stance that have hitherto remained underappreciated. For one thing, this analysis reveals an explicit voluntarist tendency in Helmholtz’s psychological theory. In conclusion, it is argued that the systematic significance of Helmholtz’s empirico-transcendentalism with respect to questions of the mind is best understood as an attempt to found his empirical theory of perception in a second order, normative account of epistemic subjectivity.

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25 Years of History of Psychiatry & A New Issue

The journal History of Psychiatry is celebrating its 25th anniversary. A special issue marking the occasion has just been released. Among the articles in the issue are ones addressing the history of nostalgia, the treatment of shell shock at the Maudsley Hospital, masculinity in Victorian asylums in New Zealand and Australian, the distinction between passion and emotion, and much more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

Editorial: “The first 25 years of History of Psychiatry,” by German E Berrios.

“Some reflections on madness and culture in the post-war world,” by Andrew Scull. The abstract reads,

This article examines the treatment of madness as a theme in drama, opera and films, concentrating its attention for the most part on the period between World War II and the 1980s. These were the years in which psychoanalysis dominated psychiatry in the USA, and so Freud’s influence in the broader culture forms the central though not the sole focus of the analysis.

“Nostalgia: A conceptual history,” by Filiberto Fuentenebro de Diego and Carmen Valiente Ots. The abstract reads, Continue reading

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New Book: Daniel Todes’s Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science

Historian Daniel Todes, of Johns Hopkins University, has just published a biography of Ivan Pavlov with Oxford University Press. The book is also discussed in a recent piece in The New Yorker, “Drool: Ivan Pavlov’s Real Quest.”

Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science is described on the publisher’s website as,

a definitive, deeply researched biography of Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) and is the first scholarly biography to be published in any language. The book is Todes’s magnum opus, which he has been working on for some twenty years. Todes makes use of a wealth of archival material to portray Pavlov’s personality, life, times, and scientific work.

Combining personal documents with a close reading of scientific texts, Todes fundamentally reinterprets Pavlov’s famous research on conditional reflexes. Contrary to legend, Pavlov was not a behaviorist (a misimpression captured in the false iconic image of his “training a dog to salivate to the sound of a bell”); rather, he sought to explain not simply external behaviors, but the emotional and intellectual life of animals and humans. This iconic “objectivist” was actually a profoundly anthropomorphic thinker whose science was suffused with his own experiences, values, and subjective interpretations.

This book is also a traditional “life and times” biography that weaves Pavlov into some 100 years of Russian history-particularly that of its intelligentsia—from the emancipation of the serfs to Stalin’s time. Pavlov was born to a family of priests in provincial Ryazan before the serfs were emancipated, made his home and professional success in the glittering capital of St. Petersburg in late imperial Russia, suffered the cataclysmic destruction of his world during the Bolshevik seizure of power and civil war of 1917-1921, rebuilt his life in his 70s as a “prosperous dissident” during the Leninist 1920s, and flourished professionally as never before in 1929-1936 during the industrialization, revolution, and terror of Stalin.

Todes’s story of this powerful personality and extraordinary man is based upon interviews with surviving coworkers and family members (along with never-before-analyzed taped interviews from the 1960s and 1970s), examination of hundreds of scientific works by Pavlov and his coworkers, and close analysis of materials from some twenty-five archives. The documents range from the records of his student years at Ryazan Seminary to the transcripts of the Communist Party cells in his labs, and from his scientific manuscripts and notebooks to his political speeches; they include revealing love letters to his future wife and correspondence with hundreds of lay people, scholars, artists, and Communist Party leaders; and unpublished memoirs by many coworkers, his daughter, his wife, and his lover.

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The Psychologist: Robbers Cave 60 Years Later

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The November 2014 issue of the British Psychological Society‘s The Psychologist magazine celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Robbers Cave study. A number of articles in the issue explore the legacy of the Robbers Cave study and the life and work of Muzafer Sherif more generally. Full details are available on The Psychologists website. Unfortunately, the full text of articles is only available to society members. (For more on Robbers Cave see our previous posts on the study.)

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Nov 24 Talk! BPS History of Psych Disciplines Seminar Series

The British Psychological Society’History of Psychology Centre, in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines, has announced the next talk as part of its autumn  BPS History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series. On November 24, Joel Eigen (above) of Franklin & Marshall College will be speaking on “Medical Testimony and the Dynamics of Forensic Diagnosis at the Old Bailey, 1760-1913.” Full details follow below.

The British Psychological Society History of Psychology Centre in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines

Location: UCL Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, London WC1E 7JG
Time: 6pm-7.30pm

Monday 24 November

Professor Joel Eigen (Franklin & Marshall College, Pennsylvania)
“Medical Testimony and the Dynamics of Forensic Diagnosis at the Old Bailey, 1760-1913″

With the enigmatic diagnosis of Homicidal Mania, forensic psychiatric witnesses in late Victorian insanity trials introduced a form of mental derangement that for the first time excluded cognitive impairment. How medical men constructed a disease out of distracted volition and the role played by an administrative change that brought doctor and prisoner before trial is the subject for this talk. The research is based on a study of courtroom testimony given in 1000 Old Bailey insanity trials.

Joel Eigen has written of the origins and evolution of forensic psychiatry in Witnessing Insanity, Madness and Mad-Doctors in the English Court (Yale, l993) and Unconscious Crime, Mental Absence and Criminal Responsibility in Victorian London (Johns Hopkins, 2003). He is currently working on the third and final book in this series, the subject of this seminar.

 

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Alfred Binet: Naissance de la Psychologie Scientifique

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Historian of Medicine Alexandre Klein, a postdoctoral fellow at the Université d’Ottawa has recently released a web documentary on Alfred Binet. The French language documentary, a collaboration with film maker Philippe Thomine, can be viewed in full here.

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New JHN: Transnational Psychosurgery, Phantom Limbs, & More

A new issue of Journal of the History of the Neuroscience is now online. Included in this issue are articles on psychosurgery as a transnational movement, artists and phantom limbs, and sex and gender in organology. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“A Transnational Perspective on Psychosurgery: Beyond Portugal and the United States,” by Brianne M. Collinsa & Henderikus J. Stam. The abstract reads,

The history of psychosurgery is most often recounted as a narrative wherein Portuguese and American physicians play the leading role. It is a traditional narrative in which the United States and, at times, Portugal are central in the development and spread of psychosurgery. Here we largely abandon the archetypal narrative and provide one of the first transnational accounts of psychosurgery to demonstrate the existence of a global psychosurgical community in which more than 40 countries participated, bolstered, critiqued, modified and heralded the treatment. From its inception in 1935 until its decline in the mid-1960s, psychosurgery was performed on almost all continents. Rather than being a phenomenon isolated to the United States and Portugal, it became a truly transnational movement.

“Phantoms in Artists: The Lost Limbs of Blaise Cendrars, Arthur Rimbaud, and Paul Wittgenstein,” by Laurent Tatu, Julien Bogousslavsky & François Boller. The abstract reads, Continue reading

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