Early Wundt & Harlem Mental Health in JHMAS

The most recent issue of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences contains two articles that will be of interest to historians of psychology.

“’A Fine New Child’: The Lafargue Mental Hygiene Clinic and Harlem’s African American Communities, 1946–1958″ by Dennis Doyle and “Physiological Optics, Cognition and Emotion: A Novel Look at the Early Work of Wilhelm Wundt” by Claudia Wassmann.  Abstracts for both are below.

“’A Fine New Child’: The Lafargue Mental Hygiene Clinic and Harlem’s African American Communities, 1946–1958″ by Dennis Doyle

Dennis DoyleIn 1946, the Lafargue Mental Hygiene Clinic, a small outpatient facility run by volunteers, opened in Central Harlem. Lafargue lasted for almost thirteen years, providing the underserved black Harlemites with what might be later termed community mental health care. This article explores what the clinic meant to the African Americans who created, supported, and made use of its community-based services. While white humanitarianism often played a large role in creating such institutions, this clinic would not have existed without the help and support of both Harlem’s black left and the increasingly activist African American church of the “long civil rights era.” Not only did St. Philip’s Church provide a physical home for the clinic, it also helped to integrate it into black Harlem, creating a patient community. The article concludes with a lengthy examination of these patients’ clinical experiences. Relying upon patient case files, the article provides a unique snapshot of the psychologization of postwar American culture. Not only does the author detail the ways in which the largely working class patient community used this facility clinic, he also explores how the patients engaged with modern psychodynamic concepts in forming their own complex understandings of selfhood and mental health.

“Physiological Optics, Cognition and Emotion: A Novel Look at the Early Work of Wilhelm Wundt” by Claudia Wassmann

Claudia WassmannThe German physiologist Wilhelm Wundt, who later founded experimental psychology, arguably developed the first modern scientific conception of emotion. In the first edition of Vorlesungen über die Menschenund Thierseele (Lectures on human and animal psychology), which was published in 1863, Wundt tried to establish that emotions were essential parts of rational thought. In fact, he considered them unconscious steps of decision-making that were implied in all processes of conscious thought. His early work deserves attention not only because it is the attempt to conceptualize cognition and emotion strictly from a neural point of view but also because it represents the very foundation of the debate about the nature of emotion that revolved around William James’ theory of emotion during the 1890s. However, this aspect of his work is little known because scholars who have analyzed Wundt’s work focused on his late career. Furthermore, historical analysis interpreted Wundt’s work within a philosophical framework, rather than placing it in the context of German medical and physiological research in which it belongs. In addition, Wundt’s early works are hardly available to an English speaking audience because they were never translated.

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About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

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