AHP‘s readers may be interested in a podcast interview with historian Ann Fabian (left) produced by the New Books Network (as part of both the New Books in History and New Books in Science, Technology, and Society series). Fabian was interviewed about her 2010 book, The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead, which details the near obsession with the skull exhibited by some in the scientific community in the nineteenth century.
The work of American Samuel Morton is the particular focus of Fabian’s book, and she recounts Morton’s efforts to hierarchically arrange the races according to their skull size and shape, which was thought to correspond with brain size and, more important still, degree of intelligence. Morton’s work was most famously criticized in Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, where Gould revisited Morton’s skull measurements and concluded that Morton fudged his data. This claim has since been challenged by others, most recently – and controversially – by a group of anthropologists who went back and remeasured Morton’s skulls and challenged Gould’s analysis.
As described by the University of Chicago Press,
When Philadelphia naturalist Samuel George Morton died in 1851, no one cut off his head, boiled away its flesh, and added his grinning skull to a collection of crania. It would have been strange, but perhaps fitting, had Morton’s skull wound up in a collector’s cabinet, for Morton himself had collected hundreds of skulls over the course of a long career. Friends, diplomats, doctors, soldiers, and fellow naturalists sent him skulls they gathered from battlefields and burial grounds across America and around the world.
Share on Facebook
With The Skull Collectors, eminent historian Ann Fabian resurrects that popular and scientific movement, telling the strange—and at times gruesome—story of Morton, his contemporaries, and their search for a scientific foundation for racial difference. From cranial measurements and museum shelves to heads on stakes, bloody battlefields, and the “rascally pleasure” of grave robbing, Fabian paints a lively picture of scientific inquiry in service of an agenda of racial superiority, and of a society coming to grips with both the deadly implications of manifest destiny and the mass slaughter of the Civil War. Even as she vividly recreates the past, Fabian also deftly traces the continuing implications of this history, from lingering traces of scientific racism to debates over the return of the remains of Native Americans that are held by museums to this day. Continue reading
Currently streaming on BBC Radio4 for the next 6 days is a program exploring the influence of psychiatric ideas on literature and vice versa. In Writing Madness, literary works by Virginia Woolf (above), F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Charles Dickens are discussed in terms of the development of psychoanalysis and the rise of psychotherapy. As described on the program’s website,
Vivienne Parry takes her diagnoses of literary heroines into the 20th century and the age of Freud, the Great War and the explosion of the ‘sciences of the mind’ focusing on three great works of fiction, mixing contemporary psychiatric and literary insight.
How did modern literary and psychiatric ideas meet and how did each shape the other? Do these heroines show literature of the period to be a critical – and even emancipating – force…or is fiction really medicine’s stooge? Novels on the couch include Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway….interestingly with both novels there’s a tendency to base the heroines on real people – Nicole Diver is based on the case history of Fitzgerald’s own wife Zelda, whereas Woolf’s Mrs.Dalloway comes very close in literary terms to what Freud calls ‘self-analysis’ – one difference is that Woolf sometimes believed ‘madness’ was necessary to be creative, while Scott Fitzgerald depicted it as disastrous drain on creativity (ie. his). And both novels have the dynamic and lucrative new industry of psychotherapy in their sights. Vivienne compares fiction in the age of Freud to literary ideas of mental health in the Victorian age and in Dickens specifically, using Great Expectations’ Miss Havisham as a case study.
Contributors include psychotherapist and essayist Adam Philips, leading psychiatrist Simon Wessely, cultural historian Lisa Appignanesi and Chris Thompson, psychiatrist and medical director of The Priory
Listen to the full 30-minute program online here.
Share on Facebook
The most recent “Short” episode released by the wonderful Radiolab radio program tackles the life and work of Alan Turing. In The Turing Problem, hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich describe Turing’s tragic life and his contributions to computer science and artificial intelligence in this, the 100th anniversary of his birth. (You can find AHP’s previous post on the Turing centenary here.) As described on Radiolab’s website,
Turing lived his whole life with machines. He built the machine that deciphered the German “Engima Code” during World War II. He imagined a day when machines would flirt with us, joke with us, listen to our problems and, above all, think for themselves. He even thought up a way to test whether machines had become indistinguishable from humans (for more on the Turing Test, check out our episode Talking to Machines).
The idea that machines would become our equals was unsettling for many of Turing’s peers. (Frankly, it still unsettles a lot of folks today, just ask Robert!) But to Turing, it was just the natural extension of his fundamental belief that we, all of us, are machines ourselves in a way. And he worried that society might judge the computers of the future as harshly as it judged him.
Alan Turing was arrested and convicted in 1952 for activities that are no longer illegal in England. Janna Levin and David Leavitt help explain how Alan Turing’s personal life may have shaped his relationship to machines. And James Gleick muses about how profound Turing’s contributions to math and computing really were.
Click here to listen to the episode online or download the episode from iTunes here.
Share on Facebook
Christopher Green (left), producer of the podcast series This Week in the History of Psychology (or TWITHOP) and AHP faculty consultant, is back at work producing podcasts on the history of psychology.
Green has just released an episode of what is to be an occasional series, Discussions in the History of Psychology (or DitHoP). In this inaugural episode Vincent (Vinny) Hevern (centre), Henderikus (Hank) Stam (right), and Robert (Bob) Kugelman (not pictured) sat down with Green to discuss the history psychology’s “Third Force,” Humanistic psychology. You can find that episode here.
A further podcast series, History of Psychology Laboratory (or HooPLa!) is also being produced. The first episode of this series tackles the history of the nineteenth century lunatic asylum, and features interviews with noted historians Andrew Scull, David Wright, Elizabeth Lunbeck, and Gerald Grob. The discussion in this episode is led by Jennifer Bazar, and features Jeremy Burman and Jacy Young (all of whom are Green’s graduate students and AHP bloggers). A second episode on the history of mental testing is in the works and a third episode on the history of comparative psychology is in the planning stages.
Finally, Green et al. are at work on a new series, TWITHOP: Shorts. This podcast series will consist of brief (approximately 5 minute) reviews of significant new journal articles about the history of psychology. The first episode of this series is on Fridlund, Beck, Goldie, & Irons’ article “Little Albert: A Neurologically Impaired Child,” forthcoming from the journal History of Psychology (and currently available through APA’s PsycArticles on-line first initiative), with further episodes to come.
You can find these podcasts, as well as Green’s original series TWITHOP, here. Subscribe through iTunes here.
Share on Facebook
BBC Radio 4 has produced dramatizations of two of Freud’s most famous cases: Dora and the Wolf Man. Only the audio of the former is available online for the next 5 days. The Wolf Man dramatization will air this Saturday, and should be available online afterwards. Descriptions of both programs from the Radio 4 website follow below.
Deborah Levy’s dramatisation of Sigmund Freud’s iconic case study ‘Dora’ translated by Shaun Whiteside.
1899 finds a father imploring Sigmund Freud to treat his daughter after discovering her intention to end her life. When Dora first comes to Freud she suffers from a loss of voice, a debilitating cough and a limp. Dream analysis is the key to unlocking the causes of Dora’s condition, and as Freud’s treatment continues, secrets, seduction and betrayal are uncovered.
Deborah Levy’s dramatisation of Sigmund Freud’s iconic case study ‘The Wolf Man- The History of an Infantile Neurosis’ translated by Shaun Whiteside.
It is 1910 when the depressed son of a wealthy Russian landowner arrives in Vienna. Sergei Pankejeff, 24 years old, is suffering from debilitating fears and phobias. Freud’s treatment of Pankejeff is centred around an enigmatic dream his patient had as a very young child; a dream of white wolves. Freud invites Sergei to return to his childhood as a means of understanding his current depression. Analysing the child inside the man Freud unlocks the meaning of the wolves that haunt Sergei’s dreams.
Go have a listen before it’s too late!
Share on Facebook
After posting about BBC Radio4′s new program A History of the Brain earlier this week, we bring to your attention yet another BBC Radio4 production: The Lobotomists. To mark the 75th anniversary of the first lobotomy performed in the United States, the program explores the work of Portuguese doctor Egas Moniz who first developed the lobotomy (or leucotomy), as well as the work of neurologist Walter Freeman and neurosurgeon Sir Wylie McKissock, who took up the procedure in the United States and Britain respectively. The Lobotomists can be heard online here and AHP’s previous posts on Walter Freeman and lobotomies can be found here.
A lengthy description of The Lobotomists is available on the program’s website and reproduced below:
Share on Facebook
2011 marks a 75th anniversary that many would prefer to forget: of the first lobotomy in the US. It was performed by an ambitious young American neurologist called Walter Freeman. Over his career, Freeman went on to perform perhaps 3,000 lobotomies, on both adults and later on children. He often performed 10 procedures or more a day. Perhaps 40,000 patients in the US were lobotomised during the heyday of the operation – and an estimated 17,000 more in the UK.
This programme tells the story of three key figures in the strange history of lobotomy – and for the first time explores the popularity of lobotomy in the UK in detail.
The story starts in 1935 with a Portuguese doctor called Egas Moniz, who pioneered a radical surgical procedure on the brain. Continue reading
Starting today, BBC Radio4 is airing a 10-part series on the history of the brain. A History of the Brain, has been written and produced by historian of psychology Geoff Bunn (left), of Manchester Metropolitan University. As described on the program’s website,
Dr Geoff Bunn’s 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of the most complex thing in the known universe. From Neolithic times to the present day, Geoff journeys through the many ideas of what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions. While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history. What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.
The first episode in the series, on the topic of trepanation, aired today and can currently be listened to online. Further episodes, each 15 minutes long, air weekdays at 1:45pm on BBC Radio4 and will be available online thereafter. Descriptions of the first 6 episodes in the series – all those airing this week, as well as the episode to air next Monday – are currently available on the program’s website:
Share on Facebook
In Episode 1: A Hole in the Head, the focus is on trepanation, the practice of drilling holes in the skull believing that such operations might correct physiological or spiritual problems. Trepanation reveals much about the understanding of the brain from Neolithic to recent times. The Ancient Egyptians, however, rarely trepanned, even though their Secret Book of the Physician, one of the oldest medical texts in the world, shows that they recognised how damage to the brain can paralyze limbs on opposite sides of the body. Believing the heart to be the core organ, they discarded the brain altogether at death, since it had no part to play in the afterlife.
In Episode 2: The Blood of The Gladiators, the focus is Ancient Greek scholarship, with Hippocrates’ astonishingly prescient belief in the brain as the chief organ of control and his debunking of the myth of the ‘sacred disease’ with his assertion that epilepsy was the result of natural causes. Yet the belief that a cure lay in the magical properties of blood persisted for centuries. Continue reading
A round-table discussion on Psychoanalysis and Politics was held in London earlier this month on May 4th. Arranged by the Departments of Psychosocial Studies and of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck University of London, the Freud Museum, and the Raphael Samuel History Centre the discussion explored various facets of the relationship between psychoanalysis and politics. The event included opening remarks and discussion by professor of modern history, Sally Alexander and three talks: Masculinity and its Vicissitudes in the early 20th Century, by historian Timothy Ashplant; Nazism and Psychoanalysis in the 1940s and beyond, by historian Daniel Pick; and Forms of Denial and Re-remembering, by psychologist Stephen Frosh. Complete audio of the event, including audience questions following the talks, can be both heard online and downloaded here.
Share on Facebook
The most recent episode of BBC Radio 4′s In Our Time is on Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, or The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened and Cut Up. The program is described on its website as follows:
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Robert Burton’s masterpiece The Anatomy of Melancholy.
In 1621 the priest and scholar Robert Burton published a book quite unlike any other. The Anatomy of Melancholy brings together almost two thousand years of scholarship, from Ancient Greek philosophy to seventeenth-century medicine. Melancholy, a condition believed to be caused by an imbalance of the body’s four humours, was characterised by despondency, depression and inactivity. Burton himself suffered from it, and resolved to compile an authoritative work of scholarship on the malady, drawing on all relevant sources.
Despite its subject matter the Anatomy is an entertaining work, described by Samuel Johnson as the only book ‘that ever took him out of bed two hours sooner than he wished to rise.’ It also offers a fascinating insight into seventeenth-century medical theory, and influenced many generations of playwrights and poets.
Professor of English Literature and Drama at the University of Nottingham
Mary Ann Lund
Lecturer in English at the University of Leicester
Lecturer and Fellow at the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham.
The episode can be heard online here.
Share on Facebook
Fans of the This Week in the History of Psychology (TWITHOP) podcast series will be pleased to learn that another podcast in this vein has been made available online. Discussions on the History of Psychology is a new venture by TWITHOP producer Christopher Green. In the inaugural episode, recorded during last year’s Cheiron conference in Syracuse, Vincent (Vinny) Hevern of Le Moyne College, Robert (Bob) Kugelmann of the University of Dallas, and Henderikus (Hank) Stam of the University of Calgary sat down with with Chris Green to discuss the history of humanistic psychology.
The podcast discussion runs about 45 minutes in length and addresses the contributions of such seminal figures within humanistic psychology as Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. This discussion of humanistic psychology may be of interest not only to historians of psychology, but also those who teach on the topic and their students. The full podcast can be heard online here.
Share on Facebook