Social History of Medicine May Issue

Whittingham Asylum

The May 2015 issue of Social History of Medicine is now online. The issue includes a number of items that may be of interest to AHP readers, including an article on Irish patients in the Victorian Lancashire asylum system and one on the importance of black celebrity activism in making the mental health of black youth a civil rights issue. The issue also includes a special section, “Focus on Learning from Pain,” where a number of recent volumes on the history of pain are reviewed. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“‘A Burden on the County’: Madness, Institutions of Confinement and the Irish Patient in Victorian Lancashire,” by Catherine Cox and Hilary Marland. The abstract reads,

This article explores the responses of the Poor Law authorities, asylum superintendents and Lunacy Commissioners to the huge influx of Irish patients into the Lancashire public asylum system, a system facing intense pressure in terms of numbers and costs, in the latter half of the nineteenth century. In particular, it examines the ways in which patients were passed, bartered and exchanged between two sets of institution—workhouses and asylums. In the mid-nineteenth century removal to asylums was advocated for all cases of mental disorder by asylum medical superintendents and the Lunacy Commissioners; by its end, asylum doctors were resisting the attempts of Poor Law officials to ‘dump’ increasing numbers of chronic cases into their wards. The article situates the Irish patient at the centre of tussles between those with a stake in lunacy provision as a group recognised as numerous, disruptive and isolated.

“Black Celebrities, Selfhood, and Psychiatry in the Civil Rights Era: The Wiltwyck School for Boys and the Floyd Patterson House,” by Dennis A. Doyle. The abstract reads,

This paper contends that a color-blind psychologisation of black interiority constituted one way in which activists imagined African Americans as both fully human and deserving of equal citizenship during the long civil rights era. Between 1954 and 1964, the Wiltwyck School for Boys, a reform school with a predominantly black student body in Esopus, New York, expanded their therapeutic services into Manhattan, creating one of the US’s first psychiatric aftercare programmes. Singer Harry Belafonte and boxing champion Floyd Patterson, two black culture heroes linked to the civil rights movement, lent their support as the Wiltwyck Board of Directors sought the funds needed to build a halfway home named in Patterson’s honor. The public support of these black celebrity-activists helped create the impression that the mental health of black children was a matter of civil rights import, underscoring the black psyche as both the very source of equality between the races and as a site where racial progress could be measured.

Focus on Learning from Pain
Review of Joanna Bourke, The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers by Rob Boddice. Extract:

If one knows Joanna Bourke’s books, the intellectual thrust of The Story of Pain will not surprise. It is the latest in her significant corpus to stress the cultural construction of linguistic and bodily practices and their political implications. Bourke is interested always in disrupting the rhetoric of the ‘normal’, the ‘banal’ and the ‘universal’, insisting that experience is historically contingent and that discourses of normativity serve always to include and exclude, privilege or hinder, according to who or what controls these discursive threads.

In this case, the focus is divided equally between the experience of being in pain and the medical history of dealing with pain. Mediating these two poles is a cultural history, spanning three centuries, of the polyphony of experts who have instructed humans how to ‘do’ pain. These prescriptions for how pain should be managed, experienced, felt, ignored, mediated or instrumentalised have come from the institutions of the state, religion, …

Review of Rob Boddice (ed.), Pain and Emotion in Modern History by Daniel Goldberg. Extract:

In their 1950 textbook, Walter Freeman and James Watts discuss the application of psychosurgery to ease some patients’ chronic intractable pain syndromes.1 According to physician-historian Mical Raz, the principal criterion utilised to justify lobotomy rather than an intervention in the peripheral nervous system was the ‘ “emotional component” of pain’.Curiously, Freeman and Watts insisted that the procedure, while remarkably successful in their eyes, did not derive its success from any kind of formal analgesia. The intervention did not reduce pain so much as it alleviated the suffering the patients experienced. In other words, even after the procedure, the patients still perceived pain. They simply did not suffer from it.

While it is axiomatic in pain studies that pain and suffering are distinct albeit closely related phenomena, it remains open to question whether the affective dimension of pain can truly be separated from its cognitive and sensory pathways. Even if pain is not merely an emotion, it is fundamentally emotional, and it is difficult to conceive how a person can experience pain absent an affective component.3 Accordingly, one would predict…

Review of George Weisz, Chronic Disease in the Twentieth Century: A History by Alex Mold. Extract:

What do diabetes, cancer, asthma and pre-menstrual syndrome have in common with each other? The answer, of course, is that they are all ‘chronic diseases’, but on closer inspection the similarities between a condition like asthma, with which someone might live for their entire life, and an aggressive cancer that could kill in months, seem less obvious. In Chronic Disease in the Twentieth Century George Weisz sets out to explore how and why such disparate illnesses have come to be grouped under the heading of chronic disease. The construction of the ‘meta-concept’ of chronic disease, he argues, began in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. By the beginning of the twenty-first century the concept had spread around the globe. Combatting chronic disease is now a central task for public health agencies in high-, middle- and low-income countries.

On the surface, the contemporary dominance of chronic disease can be understood in …

Review of Shauna Devine Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science by Jane E. Schultz. Extract:

The American Civil War, with 750,000 casualties, occasioned the largest school of medicine ever assembled in the United States. It became not only a site for the study of bodies felled by disease and hurtling material, but in Learning from the Wounded, ‘it was also the conduit for the production, development, and dissemination of new medical ideas’ (p. 5). Devine challenges a generation of scholars who took a dim view of war-time health care, by probing the scientific knowledge that constituted medicine in the mid-century and concludes that profound changes were the hard-won results of so much human woe.

The book explores the decade-long conversation concerning the war’s impact on medicine as a laboratory for professionalism by examining Union Army surgeons’ collection of specimens, standardization of procedures and publication of new findings. Anxious about being upstaged by men of lesser achievement, elite army ‘regulars’ became ‘arbiters of scientific knowledge’ (p. 11) by controlling the means of medical production: with a mandate from the Surgeon General, they launched the Amy Medical Museum (AMM), …

Review of Keith Wailoo, Pain: A Political History by Noémi Tousignant. Extract:

From the second half of the twentieth century, scholars and scientists alike sought to capture the reality of pain as more than a matter of sensory physiology. Often citing each other, anthropologists and anesthesiologists, psychologists and historians have written about how social relations and norms modulate experiences and expressions of pain. The politics of pain have attracted less attention. Of course, there are astute analyses of the representational politics of differential sensitivity to pain, as well as classic accounts of inflicted pain as a political instrument. Notable among these are Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, which describes how modern power dispenses with public spectacles of pain, and Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain, which explains torture as world-destroying because it dissolves common bonds of expressibility.1 By taking pain out of the public eye and accounts of sociability, these texts have perhaps posed an obstacle to the apprehension of the contemporary political stakes of pain. Keith Wailoo’s Pain: A Political History

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About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She completed her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.

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