Category Archives: Blogs

Mesmerism @ The British Library

The British Library has somewhat of a mesmeristic theme going on with their programming this season:

On their Untold Lives blog, Christopher Green (a different Chris Green than ours at York) writes about the career of Annie De Montford, a popular mesmerist who worked in the UK and the US in the 1880s. Read it here.

De Montford is also featured in the library’s ongoing exhibit Victorian Entertainments: There Will Be Fun, along with other historical figures who worked as magicians, pantomimes, and conjurors. The show is free, and on until March 12th. More information can be found here.

Not least, a talk will be given on March 6th by Wendy Moore titled The Mesmerist: Science vs Superstition in the Victorian era. From the flyer: ”

“…when mesmerism wafted over the Channel from France, physician John Elliotson was intrigued and resolved to harness its benefits for medicine. But his surgeon friend Thomas Wakley, editor of the influential Lancet, was disturbed and soon determined to expunge all trace of mesmerism from British shores.

Their battle throws into sharp focus fundamental questions about the fine dividing line between medicine and quackery, between science and superstition, in a Victorian society bedazzled by the magic of the music hall. And it poses questions – about hypnotism and other alternative therapies – for us today too.”

Further details with time and location can be found here. 

 

Share on Facebook

Photographic Procedures at Charcot’s Salpêtrière

The stellar Remedia blog has featured a piece by De Montfort University Photographic History Research Center fellow Beatriz Pichel called The Backstage of Hysteria: Medicine in the Photographic Studio. In it, the introduction and development of medically oriented photography at Salpêtrière is surveyed, inverting the focus of from analyses of the produced images to the production thereof. Through emphasis on how “medical priorities, as well as the materiality and technical requirements of the photographic equipment, determined the kind of images taken, and the places in which they were taken,” Pichel the processes of mediation by which supporting evidence for medical theory were created. See here to read the article. 

“Disposition de l’appareil photo-électrique poire les études médicales”, Albert Londe, “La Photographie a la Salpêtriere”, La Nature, 1883. CNAM.
Share on Facebook

History of Psychiatry Podcast Series

hous_x180Robert Allan Houston, historian of English social history at St. Andrews in Scotland is producing a podcast series with the straightforward title ‘History of Psychiatry.’

Houston’s approach is simultaneously accessible and nuanced; the series is a nice listen of its own accord, but would also make for a quality teaching resource. He has posted three episodes so far, each a nicely digestible length hovering around ten minutes (as he puts it, “bite sized.” Their topics are as follows:

  • 1.1 Psychiatry And Its Subject
  • 1.2 An Historian’s Approach to Psychiatry: The Aims of the Series
  • 2.1 Melancholia and Mania: The Main Classifications

Here is the open source link for the podcast at Sound Cloud.

Find out more about the arc of the forty-four episodes total here, as covered by the Research @StAndrews Blog.

Share on Facebook

Neuroskeptic Review: Patient H.M.

Neuroskeptic, part of Discover Magazine’s series of blogs, recently posted a review of a new book, Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets. The book, written by Luke Dittrich who is himself the grandson of H.M.’s neurosurgeon, tells the story of the infamous case study of the patient now known to be Henry Molaison.

In the review Neuroskeptic focuses on three troubling aspects of H.M.’s story as discussed in the book. First, the psychosurgery performed on H.M. to address his epilepsy had no medical basis. Second, H.M.’s life was not nearly as sedate and content as it often portrayed and he threatened suicide at various points in time. Finally, the ethics of Suzanne Corkin’s longterm study of H.M. is thrown into doubt as, following the death of his parents, H.M. lacked a legal conservator to speak to his interests. This meant that H.M. himself provided consent for many of Corkin’s studies, though whether this can be understood as informed consent is doubtful. Moreover, the cousin eventually appointed conservator for H.M., it turns out, was not related to H.M. at all and simply provided blanket consent for Corkin’s tests of H.M.

Read Neuroskeptic’s full review online here.

Share on Facebook

The ‘gay cure’ experiments that were written out of scientific history

Robert Heath

This article first appeared on Mosaic and is republished here under a Creative Commons licence.

Robert Heath claimed to have cured homosexuality by implanting electrodes into the pleasure centre of the brain. Robert Colvile reports on one of the great forgotten stories of neuroscience.

For the first hour, they just talked. He was nervous; he’d never done this before. She was understanding, reassuring: let’s just lie down on the bed together, she said, and see what happens. Soon, events took their course: they were enjoying themselves so much they could almost forget about the wires leading out of his skull.

The year was 1970, and the man was a 24-year-old psychiatric patient. The woman, 21, was a prostitute from the French Quarter of New Orleans, hired by special permission of the attorney general of Louisiana. And they had just become part of one of the strangest experiments in scientific history: an attempt to use pleasure conditioning to turn a gay man straight.

The patient – codenamed B-19 – was, according to the two academic papers that catalogued the course of the research, a “single, white male of unremarkable gestation and birth”. He came from a military family and had had an unhappy childhood. He had, the papers said, entered the military but had been expelled for “homosexual tendencies” within a month. He had a five-year history of homosexuality, and a three-year history of drug abuse: he had tried glues, paints, thinners, sedatives, marijuana, LSD, amphetamines, even nutmeg and vanilla extract. He had temporal lobe epilepsy. He was depressive, suicidal, insecure, procrastinating, self-pitying and narcissistic. “All of his relationships,” wrote his doctors, with an unsparing lack of sympathy, “have been characterised by coercion, manipulation and demand.”

One of the strangest experiments in scientific history: an attempt to use pleasure conditioning to turn a gay man straight.

In 1970, B-19 ended up in the care of Robert Galbraith Heath, chair of the department of psychiatry and neurology at Tulane University, New Orleans. Heath’s prescription was drastic. He and his team implanted stainless steel, Teflon-coated electrodes into nine separate regions of B-19’s brain, with wires leading back out of his skull. Once he had recovered from the operation, a control box was attached which enabled him, under his doctors’ supervision, to provide a one-second jolt to the brain area of his choice. Continue reading The ‘gay cure’ experiments that were written out of scientific history

Share on Facebook

Allan Branstiter: Madness & A Thousand Reconstructions

The Mississippi State Asylum, see original post on AHA Today for full image citation
The Mississippi State Asylum, see original post on AHA Today for full image citation

Another highlight from the AHA Today blog–an announcement of a three parted post series by University of Southern Mississippi PhD Student Branstiter.  Titled “Madness and a Thousand Reconstructions: Learning to Embrace the Messiness of the Past,” the series, a reflexive narrative about archival research and historiography, will be of particular interest to other graduate students and early career historians engaging in similar processes of craft development.

Branstiter’s series will explain how shifts in the reformulation of his topic (an asylum scandal in Reconstruction-era US south) from ‘event’ to ‘lens’ allowed him to investigate its contexts in a way that could more fully apprehend the complexity involved. By recounting his own historiographic processes, Branstiter expounds upon common challenges in the construction of historical knowledge, including the politics of interpretation, the benefits of allowing the data to speak, as well as negotiation of the limits of formal records and informal memory practices. We look forward to the installments!

Share on Facebook

AHA Today on Archiving the Internet

AHA logoStephanie Kingsley (over on the American Historical Association‘s blog) put up a post on the ethical and technical challenges of retaining records of the web. Summarizing the proceedings of a day symposium on the topic, Kingsley also consults with the York Psyborg lab’s good fried Ian Milligan (Waterloo) to expound on the complex topic. She also provides a compendium of resources for those historians interested in contributing to projects being undertaken to #SaveTheWeb. Find the full post here.

 

Share on Facebook

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.

Share on Facebook

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.

Share on Facebook

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.

Share on Facebook