Category Archives: Blogs

AHA Today American Humanities ‘Alliance Action Alert’

AHA logoFor our United-Statesian friends, the American Historical Association‘s blog AHA Today responds to the latest of perennial calls by the House of Representatives Budget Committee to end federal funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Quote:

This is a non-binding budget recommendation, and is one of those things that representatives hostile to the NEH, etc. put out year after year…. Although urgency seems less real than apparent, now is still a good time to send a strong message to Congress that you support NEH.

Here is the action alert they created to make for easy emailing to your congress person in support of the Endowment. Please participate!

Here is the full post we’re referencing, for more information.

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Cinema and Failed “Rat Utopia” Over on the H-Word

The H-Word blog over at The Guardian has just published a piece on the influence of rat experiments on the novel High Rise, the basis for a newly released film of the same name. As author Jesse Olszynko-Gryn notes in his post,

the most influential example of “pathological togetherness” lifted from the animal kingdom was not a bird. It was a rodent and, in particular, the laboratory experiments performed on rats in the 1960s by ethologist John B. Calhoun at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

Calhoun built a “rat city” in which everything a rat could need was provided, except space. The result was a population explosion followed by pathological overcrowding, then extinction. Well before the rats reached the maximum possible density predicted by Calhoun, however, they began to display a range of “deviant” behaviours: mothers neglected their young; dominant males became unusually aggressive; subordinates withdrew psychologically; others became hypersexual; the living cannibalized the dead. Calhoun’s “rat utopia” became a living hell.

Calhoun published the early results of his experiments in 1962 in the now-classic Scientific American article, “Population Density and Social Pathology”. As historians Edmund Ramsden and Jon Adams have shown, Calhoun’s rats circulated widely as “scientific evidence” of the dangers of urban overcrowding in human society. His concept of the “behavioural sink” chimed with despairing journalistic reports of “sink estates” and “sink schools” in 1970s Britain.

The full piece can be read online here.

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A brief history of personality psychometrics on The Conversation

scantron graphic

Academic journalism site The Conversation posted a short piece on personality testing that touches on the context-boundedness and reflexive aspects of such measures and how they relate to the history of the field more generally. Titled Psychology by numbers: a brief history of personality tests (and written by Chris Millard, a Wellcome Trust Medical Humanities Research Fellow), it’s an example of popularization that is both straightforward but still relatively sophisticated; it could work well as a teaching resource.

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Become Wellcome Library’s Wikimedian in Residence!

The Reading Room at Wellcome Collection. Wellcome Images reference: C0108488.
The Reading Room at Wellcome Collection. Wellcome Images reference: C0108488.

Phoebe Harkins, the  Library Communications Co-ordinator at Wellcome, has posted an application announcement for a new contractual position of Wikimedian in Residence on their blog (flexible 6-12 months, depending on the projects the Wikimedian proposes and develops).

Excerpts from the post:

Incurably curious? Interested in the history of medicine? Know a bit about Wikipedia?

Our collections cover so much more than the history of medicine – essentially life, death and everything in between, so there’s huge potential for improving the content on Wikipedia. We’ll also be looking at enriching other Wikimedia projects.

The Wikimedian will work with us on the project to help develop areas of Wikipedia covered by our amazing holdings. We’d love you to help us to make our world-renowned collections, knowledge and expertise here at the Wellcome Library even more accessible.

Application deadline is February 2nd 2016

Harkins contact is  p.harkins@wellcome.ac.uk

Find the full post here for more info.

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Recent Blog Post: “Surgery for Desperados” On Neurosurgical Solutions to Criminality

In a recent post on the history of medicine blog Remedia historian of science Delia Gavrus documents efforts to reform criminals through brain surgery. These surgeries, undertaken from the late-nineteenth century through the 1920s, helped set the stage for the advent of the lobotomy in the 1930s. As Gavrus notes,

The belief that surgery on the skull and brain could cure afflictions of the mind may appear out of place in the 1920s, coming as it did many years before the Portuguese neurologist Egas Moniz developed a psychosurgical technique in which the connections between the prefrontal cortex and the rest of the brain were severed in an attempt to alleviate symptoms of mental illness (the prefrontal leucotomy or lobotomy, first performed in 1935).

In fact, ‘escaping’ prison by way of surgery on the skull or brain was far from unprecedented in the decades before the introduction of lobotomy. If Gardner didn’t learn about the procedure from a doctor, he might very well have been inspired by the many stories similar to his own which appeared in the newspapers. For instance, a decade and a half earlier, a notorious check forger underwent a much talked about skull operation that drew commentary even from a former chief of the United States Secret Service. The Governor of New York pardoned Edward Grimmell because “[m]any scientific men are interested in seeing whether his criminal tendencies have disappeared, which can only be determined by his conduct when at large […] I am willing that the Parole Board should permit the experiment to be tried in this case […].”

The full post can be read online here.

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History of Workplace Motivation on the “Hidden Persuaders” Blog

The “Hidden Persuaders” blog recently posted a piece by Kira Lussier on the history of motivation in the workplace. In “Motivated or Manipulated? Ernest Dichter and David McClelland at Work” Lussier notes, there is

…a long history of concern with the relationship between employees’ psychological states and the success of the company, or even the economy, as a whole. Focusing on motivation raises questions about the role of psychological expertise in shaping our understanding of the self in corporate culture; and how the line between motivation and manipulation has been negotiated and challenged in the last fifty years. My dissertation research addresses these questions, focusing on the history of psychological techniques in late twentieth-century American businesses. Historians of psychology have traced the rise of psychological expertise in Cold War America, showing how psychologists framed a whole host of social concerns, from class relations to workplace morale, as psychological problems. Their accounts examine the ways that psychologists have been caught up in structures of power, particularly government and military contracts during the Cold War [2]. Many post-war psychologists turned to corporate America to market their expertise, following in a long line of business-oriented applied psychologists, starting with Hugo Munsterberg in the early twentieth century [3].

The full post can be read online here.

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BBC’s History of the Future series & seeing the brain

SML CT
The world’s first CT scanner (1971), at Science Museum London.

BBC 4’s series History of the Future “uses the fascinating objects in the Science Museum in London to chart how our understanding of ourselves and our technology has changed over time.”  Associated blogger Melissa Hogenbloom posted a piece titled “A brief history of our desire to peer into the brain,” which surveys methods from phrenology to EEG, CT Scan and fMRI. Included are video clips of Science Museum curator Katie Dabin showing Hogenbloom their relevant collection, including ceramic phrenological heads and early electroencephalography technology.

That post, with the films of Dabin’s explanations, can be found here.

 

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The Monitor on research directions @ The Kinsey Institute

2015-10-kinsey_tcm7-192230The latest edition of Monitor on Psychology includes a short piece by Rebecca Clay about the history and current status of psychological work at The Kinsey Institute, offering those in the field an opportunity to touch base with the work that is being done there.

Info from Drucker’s 2014 volume is used to establish how the institute’s inception and early work relates to, and differs from, its recent research directions and expansion of focus to include work on relationships as well as sexuality. Their research programs on condom usage, sex and immunity, and the impact of technology on communication in sexual relations are featured.

Read the article, with more details about the relevant researchers and administration of the institute, here.

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AHA Online Calendar

FYI, the American Historical Association’s website includes a handy dandy calendar tool that provides a chronology of wide-ranging relevant content for those interested in the happenings of the historical discipline more broadly. Included are meetings and seminars, exhibitions and interpretive resources, as well as awards and fellowships.

Follow this link to check it out!

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History and the Hoffman Report: A Round-Up

Chances are you, like us, have been following the fall out from the American Psychological Association’s Hoffman Report, which details how the organization colluded with the United States government to ensure psychologists remained part of its torture program. While there are a ton of opinion pieces floating around in the wake of the report, we thought we’d highlight a few pieces that take a particularly historical view on the current situation.

Over on the Hidden Persuaders blog, part of a project on Cold War era brainwashing efforts, Marcia Holmes has written “What we’re reading now: The APA report.” Holmes details the events leading up to the Hoffman Report and situates psychology’s involvement in torture in relation to the emergence of “operational psychology.” The fundamental tension between “operational psychology” and ethics, Holmes argues, may never be resolved. Read the full piece online here.

BBC Radio program Witness has produced an episode on “CIA Mind Control Experiments” in the 1950s. While this piece is not directly about the Hoffman Report, it documents  the long history of relations between psychology and the CIA:

In the 1950s the CIA started attempting to brainwash psychiatric patients. They wanted to develop methods which could be used against enemies in the Cold War. Hear from one man whose father was experimented on in a Canadian psychiatric hospital.

The full 10-minute episode can be heard online here.

Finally historian Laura Stark, writing in Inside Higher Ed, explains “Why Ethics Codes Fail.” Stark, having previously written about the first ethics code adopted by the APA in 1973, argues that,

The APA’s current ethics mess is a problem inherent to its method of setting professional ethics policy and a problem that faces professional organizations more broadly. Professions’ codes of ethics are made to seem anonymous, dropped into the world by some higher moral authority. But ethics codes have authors. In the long term, the APA’s problems will not be solved by repeating the same process that empowers a select elite to write ethics policy, then removes their connection to it.

All ethics codes have authors who work to erase the appearance of their influence. Personal interests are inevitable, if not unmanageable, and it may be best for the APA — and other professional groups — to keep the link between an ethics policy and its authors. Take a new lesson from the Hippocratic oath by observing its name. The APA should make its ethics policies like most other papers that scientists write: give the code of ethics a byline.

Read the full piece online here.

If there are other historically focused responses to the Hoffman Report that we’ve missed please feel free to add them in the comments!

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