Monthly Archives: April 2011

The History of “Soldier’s Heart” in JHMAS

The April 2011 issue of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences has just been released online. Included in this issue is an article that may be of interest to AHP’s readers. In “The Chief Seat of Mischief: Soldier’s Heart in the First World War” Sean Dyde explores the fate of “soldier’s heart” a medical-psychological diagnosis assigned from the American Civil War through to the period just following the First World War. Appearing as a variety of heart-related symptoms, soldier’s heart was held by physicians in the twentieth century to be psychosomatic until experimental results showed otherwise. Title, author, and abstract follow below.

“The Chief Seat of Mischief: Soldier’s Heart in the First World War,” by Sean Dyde. The abstract reads,

Soldier’s heart was a medico-psychiatric condition that was first documented during the American Civil War. This condition affected British and American soldiers during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries; doctors recorded patients experiencing palpitations, breathlessness, headaches, and praecordial pain among other symptoms. While the number of cases of this disorder reached its peak in the First World War, it disappeared shortly afterwards. Based on an analysis of experimental results published in generalist and specialized medical journals as well as the correspondence between physicians and researchers that these journals maintained, this study challenges the view that soldier’s heart disappeared because doctors realized that the disorder was, in fact, psychosomatic. Instead, this article shows that this notion was an unintentional by-product of the research conducted into the condition, the results of which opposed the somaticist philosophy that many of the researchers had tried to uphold.

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Funding and Fellowship Opportunities

Money TreeThe National Humanities Alliance has posted two news items that may be of interest to AHP readers.

Ph.D. candidates with approved dissertation topics, and recent Ph.D. graduates (within 5 years) who are looking to add social and political context to their historical projects, may find this Fellowship opportunity interesting: the National Archives is offering a summer research fellowship starting in July 2011. With an accompanying $10,000 stipend, this is an excellent opportunity for researchers and historians to gain access to these archives, to its staff, and to consultants from the House and Senate history offices.

Suggested research topics include: immigration policy, committee histories, environmental policy, Congressional investigations, or eighteenth and nineteenth century petitions to Congress. However, any topic using the historical records of Congress housed at the National Archives’ Centre for Legislative Archives will be considered. Follow this link for more information.

Secondly, The National Humanities Alliance has posted a list of funding opportunities for humanities and social science projects.

Of note are the Digging into Data challenge, where researchers create international (Canada, US, UK, Netherlands) teams to develop new means of searching through and analyzing the large amounts of data and databases now used by humanities and social science scholars.

American archivists may also be interested in this Publishing Historical Records Grant, which provides support for projects requiring between $20,000 and $4,000,000. The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), which is a part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), supports this opportunity to promote and preserve American documents “essential to understanding our democracy, history, and culture.”

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New Issue: JHBS Spring 2011

The Spring 2011 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences has just been released online. Included in this issue are four all new articles as well as a number of book reviews. Among the subjects addressed in the issue’s articles are the history of linguistics, the work of Herbert Blumer, music research in early experimental psychology and the influence of nondirective interviewing methods, as developed by Carl Rogers (left), in sociological interviewing. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“‘The most important technique …”: Carl Rogers, Hawthorne, and the rise and fall of nondirective interviewing in sociology,” by Raymond M. Lee. The abstract reads,

In the 1940s, interviewing practice in sociology became decisively influenced by techniques that had originally been developed by researchers in other disciplines working within a number of therapeutic or quasi-therapeutic contexts, in particular the “nondirective interviewing” methods developed by Carl Rogers and the interviewing procedures developed during the Hawthorne studies. This article discusses the development of nondirective interviewing and looks at how in the 1930s and ’40s the approach came to be used in sociology. It examines the factors leading to both the popularity of the method and its subsequent fall from favor. Continue reading

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Essay: “‘Foolishness’ needs closer examination”

“‘Foolishness’ needs closer examination,” wrote Christopher Goodey (2004) in Medical History, 48(3). Why, yes, I thought. It does. And it seems especially apropos to revisit this topic today: through his delving into the past, we may well find a more interesting interpretation of contemporary pranksters’ April tomfoolery.

As Goodey points out, “foolishness” is often equated with a kind of “mental deficiency.” (Early texts describing it are now read by doctors as having anticipated modern diagnoses.) And the origins of April Fools’ Day could be read in this way too: on the earliest appearance of the day in English literature — as the 32nd of March — Chaucer’s (1392) cockerel Chanticleer was tricked into being eaten by a sly fox, who was then in turn tricked into letting his dinner escape (in the Canterbury Tales).

But did the origins of April Fools’ Day, in the Middle Ages, reflect this contemporary understanding? Has “foolishness” always been the opposite of “intelligence”?

Goodey suggests that the answer to this question is, simply, “no.” It is misleading, he shows, to reduce one to the other.

The idea of an intelligence peculiar to the human species… arrived only after logic-based methods started to be used to define essences of species, i.e. with the birth of modern biological classification in the eighteenth century. An ability for abstract thinking was perceived as universally human only when political and ecclesiastical élites were challenged over their divine right to prescribe the abstract principles known as “common ideas” to the rest of the population, and individuals started getting ideas by themselves. (p. 290)

In other words, the notion of intelligence as we think of it today is a relatively modern invention. As a result, we cannot read its meaning — or its opposite — into the texts of earlier writers.

Yet, it is the case that many contemporary April Fools’ Day pranks assume the mental deficiency of their targets (i.e., they assume their audience is “stupid”). Having accepted Goodey’s invitation to examine the notion more closely, however, I now suggest that this need not be the case.

Instead, I suggest that “stupid” pranks can be understood as reflecting a fundamental presentism. Recognizing this, and applying Hacking‘s notion of “the looping effect,” there then also seems to be a way out: contemporary pranksters have been led, by this misunderstanding of historical sources, to act differently than they might have otherwise.

Delving still more deeply, it seems that historicist readings of “foolishness” — and thus also of April Fools’ Day — may well be more subversive (and more interesting) than is usually thought at present. As Goodey points out:

Erasmus’s Praise of folly and Brant’s Ship of fools both use foolishness allegorically to attack political and ecclesiastical élites. (p. 292)

We are thus led to wonder: Were Chanticleer and the fox both actually stupid? Or did Chaucer use their foolishness to afford a commentary on a larger issue?

Thus, to close: if you pranked someone today, did your prank assume they were stupid? Or were you subverting something larger?

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APA Monitor: A Batman to the Rescue

The Time Capsule section of April’s issue of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology includes a piece on psychological research on the possibility of arming bats and using them to attack Japan during WWII. This research was undertaken by Donald R. Griffin and the proposal

called for thousands of bats — each carrying a small time-delay incendiary explosive attached to its body — to be released at night by airplanes flying over Japanese cities. As they sought shelter for the day, the bats would roost in the nooks and crannies of the wood frame buildings so common in Japanese urban centers, igniting thousands of fires and creating chaos that would cripple Japan. In April 1942, Griffin wrote the following summary evaluation for the NDRC:

“This proposal seems bizarre and visionary at first glance, but extensive experience with experimental biology convinces the writer that if executed competently it would have every chance of success.”

Griffin went on to recommend some intermediate steps, including locating bats that might serve in the mission, determining their load-bearing capacity and how best to attach the incendiary devices, and ascertaining the best means of transporting and releasing the bats.

The full piece can be read online here.

Note: The image on the right, a Batman and Wolverine optical illusion (the work of Olly Moss), was simply too fantastic not to use.

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