Tag Archives: film

New JHBS: William McDougall, the Chicago Committee on the Behavioral Sciences, & More

William McDougall, 1938The Fall 2016 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue explore the work done by psychologist William McDougall (right) during his time in the United States, the Chicago Committee on the Behavioral Sciences during the mid-twentieth century, the development of the National Anthropological Film Center, and more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.


The British-born psychologist William McDougall (1871–1938) spent more than half of his academic career in the United States, holding successive positions after 1920 at Harvard and Duke universities. Scholarly studies uniformly characterize McDougall’s relationship with his New World colleagues as contentious: in the standard view, McDougall’s theory of innate drives clashed with the Americans’ experimentation into learned habits. This essay argues instead that rising American curiosity about inborn appetites—an interest rooted in earlier pragmatic philosophy and empirically investigated by interwar scientists—explains McDougall’s migration to the United States and his growing success there. A review of McDougall’s intellectual and professional ties, evolving outside public controversy, highlights persistent American attention to natural agency and complicates arguments voiced by contemporaries in favor of nurture.


The Chicago Committee on the Behavioral Sciences occupies a special place in the eponymous movement. Involving prominent figures such as psychologist James G. Miller and neurophysiologist Ralph W. Gerard, this committee embodied the common belief among behavioral scientists that a cross-disciplinary approach using natural science methods was key to understanding major issues facing mid-century American society. This interdivisional committee fell under the jurisdiction of both the natural and social sciences. As such, its flagship project, an institute of mental sciences, had to face the reluctance both of natural scientists who thought it inadequately scientific and of social scientists who regard its efforts as too narrow in scope and too biological in orientation. Though it failed in its main objective to create an institute, the committee was a formidable instrument of intellectual stimulation and socialization for its members. It provided them with an opportunity to familiarize themselves with each other’s scientific backgrounds, practices and jargons, realize the significance of academic cultural differences and learn ways to accommodate them.


This article analyzes the development of the National Anthropological Film Center as an outgrowth of the Smithsonian’s efforts to promote a multidisciplinary program in “urgent anthropology” during the 1960s and 1970s. It considers how film came to be seen as an ideal tool for the documentation and preservation of a wide range of human data applicable to both the behavioral and life sciences. In doing so, it argues that the intellectual and institutional climate facilitated by the Smithsonian’s museum structure during this period contributed to the Center’s initial establishment as well its eventual decline. Additionally, this piece speaks to the continued relevance of ethnographic film archives for future scientific investigations within and beyond the human sciences.


This paper proposes a new approach to the study of sociological classics. This approach is pragmatic in character. It draws upon the social pragmatism of G. H. Mead and the sociology of texts of D. F. McKenzie. Our object of study is Norbert Elias’s On the Process of Civilization. The pragmatic genealogy of this book reveals the importance of taking materiality seriously. By documenting the successive entanglements between human agency and nonhuman factors, we discuss the origins of the book in the 1930s, how it was forgotten for 30 years, and how in the mid-1970s it became a sociological classic. We explain canonization as a matter of fusion between book’s material form and its content, in the context of the paperback revolution of the 1960s, the events of May 1968, and the demise of Parsons’ structural functionalism, and how this provided Elias with an opportunity to advance his model of sociology.

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FHHS Sponsored Session: “Human Science Fictionalized: A Novel, a Visual Narrative and an Indie Film”

This November’s History of Science Society (HSS) meeting features a session sponsored by HSS’s special interest group the Forum for History of Human Science (FHHS). The HSS meeting runs November 3rd through 6th in Atlanta, Georgia. The session “Human Science Fictionalized: A Novel, a Visual Narrative and an Indie Film,” organized by Ben Harris (right), will take place on the morning of Sunday November 6th. Full details follow below.

Sunday Nov. 6, 9-11 am
Session 87. Human Science Fictionalized: A Novel, a Visual Narrative and an Indie Film
Chair(s): John Carson, University of Michigan
Commentator(s): Nadine Weidman, Harvard University
Organizer(s): Ben Harris, University of New Hampshire

A Novelist’s Perspective, Andromeda Romano-Lax, Independent Scholar
An Artist’s Perspective, Matteo Farinella, Independent Scholar and Columbia University
Putting Stanley Milgram on Film, Gina Perry, University of Melbourne


In studies of science popularization the focus is usually on non-fiction. But what about fictionalized portraits of science? This session looks at three attempts to bring the human and neuro- sciences to the public through fiction. Among the questions explored are: how is the fact/fiction boundary negotiated? how do a “fact writer” and a “fiction writer” think about popularization differently? What are the different relationships that they have to their sources, or that they envision with their audiences? Andromeda Romano-Lax is a successful novelist whose most recent work, Behave (2016), dramatizes the life and career of Rosalie Rayner, wife and former student of behaviorist John Watson. Matteo Farinella is an illustrator and artist with a doctorate in neuroscience. His visual narrative, Neurocomic (2013, co-authored with Hana Roz), portrays the history of neuroscience through a young man’s a voyage of discovery in a land of giant neurons and encounters with famous scientists. Gina Perry is an Australian journalist who used her investigative and narrative skills to write a Behind the Shock Machine (2013), a history of Stanley Milgram’s obedience studies. Now a doctoral student in psychology, she will review Experimenter, Michael Almereyda’s 2016 film about Milgram and his work. Our commentator is Nadine Weidman, a historian of science at Harvard University known for her work on public controversy and popularization in the twentieth century human sciences. Our Chair is John Carson, a historian at the University of Michigan and Director of Undergraduate Studies for its Program in Science, Technology, and Society.

Come back tomorrow for a roundup of all the history of human science related programming at HSS!

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Special Issue on Cinema and Neuroscience

The first issue of 2016 of the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences is a special issue devoted to “Cinema and Neuroscience: Development and Application of Cinematography in the Field of the Neurosciences.” Full article titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

Introduction: “Cinema and Neuroscience: Development and Application of Cinematography in the Field of the Neurosciences,” by Geneviève Aubert. No abstract.

“Capturing Motion and Depth Before Cinematography,” by Nicholas J. Wade. The abstract reads,

Visual representations of biological states have traditionally faced two problems: they lacked motion and depth. Attempts were made to supply these wants over many centuries, but the major advances were made in the early-nineteenth century. Motion was synthesized by sequences of slightly different images presented in rapid succession and depth was added by presenting slightly different images to each eye. Apparent motion and depth were combined some years later, but they tended to be applied separately. The major figures in this early period were Wheatstone, Plateau, Horner, Duboscq, Claudet, and Purkinje. Others later in the century, like Marey and Muybridge, were stimulated to extend the uses to which apparent motion and photography could be applied to examining body movements. These developments occurred before the birth of cinematography, and significant insights were derived from attempts to combine motion and depth.

“The Dercum-Muybridge Collaboration and the Study of Pathologic Gaits Using Sequential Photography,” by Douglas J. Lanska. The abstract reads, Continue reading Special Issue on Cinema and Neuroscience

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Mediating Shell Shock: The 1918 Film ‘War Neuroses’ as Clinical Controversy

sgt-bissettBPS’ May volume of The Psychologist includes an insightful historical piece by Edgar Jones (out of the Institute for Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience at King’s College London). His article, Filming Trauma, assesses the influence and controversy in Britain surrounding the clinical research of Arthur Hurst on treatment of shell shock as a medical emergency within their military forces.

Jones identifies Hurst’s provocative footage of disordered movement as having lasting historical impact on our comprehension of how shell shock presented itself and was understood by contemporaries of the first World War; he then asserts the film was a non-representative and highly mediated rendition of the condition as experienced by the soldiers in that context. Jones goes on to elucidate the skeptical response of other psychiatric professionals to Hurst’s methods and claims to unprecedented and outstanding therapeutic efficacy, for which Hurst provided little explanation or followup.

An engaging read! Find it as pdf, or post.

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J. of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences: LSD as Psychotherapy & Psychiatric Film

US President John F. Kennedy signs the Kefauver Harris Drug Amendments of 1962.

The April 2014 issue of Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences includes several items that may be of interest to AHP’s readers. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Efficacy and Enlightenment: LSD Psychotherapy and the Drug Amendments of 1962,” by Matthew Oram. The abstract reads,

The decline in therapeutic research with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in the United States over the course of the 1960s has commonly been attributed to the growing controversy surrounding its recreational use. However, research difficulties played an equal role in LSD psychotherapy’s demise, as they frustrated researchers’ efforts to clearly establish the efficacy of treatment. Once the Kefauver Harris Drug Amendments of 1962 introduced the requirement that proof of efficacy be established through controlled clinical trials before a drug could be approved to market, the value of clinical research became increasingly dependent on the scientific rigor of the trial’s design. LSD psychotherapy’s complex method of utilizing drug effects to catalyze a psychological treatment clashed with the controlled trial methodology on both theoretical and practical levels, making proof of efficacy difficult to obtain. Through a close examination of clinical trials performed after 1962, this article explores how the new emphasis on controlled clinical trials frustrated the progress of LSD psychotherapy research by focusing researchers’ attention on trial design to the detriment of their therapeutic method. This analysis provides a new perspective on the death of LSD psychotherapy and explores the implications of the Drug Amendments of 1962.

“Neuro Psychiatry 1943: The Role of Documentary Film in the Dissemination of Medical Knowledge and Promotion of the U.K. Psychiatric Profession,” by Edgar Jones. The abstract reads,

In 1943, Basil Wright produced a documentary film about the treatment of servicemen and civilians with psychological disorders at Mill Hill Emergency Medical Service Hospital. Funded by the Ministry of Information, Neuro Psychiatry was shot to convince influential clinicians and policy makers in North America that the British had developed expertise in the management of psychiatric casualties. By emphasizing novel and apparently effective interventions and excluding severe or intractable cases from the film, Wright encouraged an optimistic sense of achievement. Filmed at a time when victory was considered an eventual outcome, the picture presented a health service to which all had access without charge. Children and unemployed women, two groups excluded under the 1911 National Insurance Act, had been required to pay for healthcare in the prewar period and were shown receiving free treatment from the Emergency Medical Service. However, the therapeutic optimism presented in the film proved premature. Most U.K. battle casualties arose in the latter half of the conflict and follow-up studies failed to confirm the positive outcome statistics reported in the film. Aubrey Lewis, clinical director of the hospital, criticized research projects conducted at Mill Hill for a lack of rigor. The cinematographic skills of Wright and director Michael Hankinson, together with their reformist agenda, created a clinical presentation that emphasized achievements without acknowledging the limitations not only of the therapies offered by doctors but also the resources available to a nation at war.

“The Cost of War—Then and Now: Commentary on ‘Neuro Psychiatry 1943’,” by Heiner Fangerau. The abstract reads,

In his essay “Neuro Psychiatry 1943: The Role of Documentary Film in the Dissemination of Medical Knowledge and Promotion of the U.K. Psychiatric Profession” Edgar Jones provides a detailed case study of a single movie that was made under unusual wartime conditions. From this case, he builds a general analysis of the interpretation and portrayal of scientific expertise that shaped the production, distribution, and reception of this genre of documentary. The paper provides a fresh perspective for the historical analysis of film documentaries, while remaining highly topical and germane to present-day issues in medicine and health care.

The film that Jones studied was produced in a British hospital where war victims (mostly soldiers) were treated for war neuroses. The filmmakers documented the therapies employed and the apparently successful posttreatment reintroduction of patients into military service and civilian work. They hoped to convince informed audiences, especially those outside Britain in the United States and Canada, about the effectiveness of the British Health Care Service in …

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Film: Lester Beck’s Photographic Studies in Hypnosis

YouTube’s CreativeCommonsTV has posted a clip of University of Oregon psychologist Lester F. Beck’s Photographic Studies in Hypnosis. The footage from 1938 is described as,

This silent film shows a woman being hypnotized and includes both pre and post hypnosis scenes. The hypnotist demonstrates how a patient’s mind can be manipulated as he pinpricks and burns his patient with controlled and suggestive reactions. This unrehearsed session of hypnosis features two students whom are given false memories. The pair are then tested about their memories and are given some basic psychological tests to see the effects of the hypnosis.

Tip o’ the Hat to the Society for the History of Psychology Facebook page for bringing this film to our attention.

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Shell Shock Films & Mentally Ill Smokers

The July 2012 issue of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences is now online. Included in this issue are two articles that tackle the history of mental health. The first article describes the work of Arthur Hurst who filmed soldiers suffering from shell shock post World War I. Further films by Hurst were used to convey the message that these soldiers could be “cured” with relative ease. The second mental health related article in this issue explores the relationship between mentally ill smokers and the tobacco industry, including efforts to cast smoking as an activity with positive effects for the mentally ill. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

War Neuroses and Arthur Hurst: A Pioneering Medical Film about the Treatment of Psychiatric Battle Casualties,” by Edgar Jones. The abstract reads,

From 1917 to 1918, Major Arthur Hurst filmed shell-shocked patients home from the war in France. Funded by the Medical Research Committee, and using Pathé cameramen, he recorded soldiers who suffered from intractable movement disorders as they underwent treatment at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley and undertook programs of occupational therapy at Seale Hayne in Devon. As one of the earliest UK medical films, Hurst’s efforts may have drawn inspiration from the official documentary of the Battle of the Somme and films made in 1916 by French Army neurologists. Although initially motivated to make use of a novel medium to illustrate lectures, Hurst was alert to the wider appeal of the motion picture and saw an opportunity to position himself in the postwar medical hierarchy. Some “before treatment” shots were reenacted for the camera. Hurst, like some other shell shock doctors, openly used deception as a therapeutic measure. On the basis that the ends justified the means, they defended this procedure as ethical. Clinicians also took advantage of changes in military regulations to address functional symptoms. Claims made of “cures” in the film and associated publications by Hurst were challenged by other doctors treating shell shock. The absence of follow-up data and evidence from war pension files suggested that Hurst may have overstated the effectiveness of his methods. Nevertheless, the message conveyed in the film that chronic cases could be treated in a single session had a powerful resonance for ambitious or charismatic doctors and was revived in World War II.

“Scientific Research and Corporate Influence: Smoking, Mental Illness, and the Tobacco Industry,” by Laura Hirschbein. The abstract reads, Continue reading Shell Shock Films & Mentally Ill Smokers

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APA Monitor: Psychology’s First Forays into Film

The May issue of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology is now online. Included in this month’s Time Capsule section is a piece from AHP’s own Arlie Belliveau on the early uses of film in psychology. In particular, Belliveau describes the work of husband and wife team of engineer Frank Gilbreth and industrial psychologist Lillian Moller Gilbreth (both pictured above), who worked in the field of scientific management. The Gilbreths created what were called micromotion films, which aimed to record the minute details of the motions required to perform the highly repetitive work done within factories. (You can view one of their micromotion films online here.) As Belliveau describes,

The first instance of this form of micromotion study occurred in 1912 at the NEBC factory. The Gilbreths set up their camera in a second-floor laboratory in which the walls and floorboards were painted white with a black grid overlay to optimize light reflection and provide a reference to scale. Individual braiding machines and pieces of office equipment were brought upstairs to be filmed under the natural lights of the windows. Factory workers were enlisted to participate as the stars and experts of the films. Each factory task was filmed, and then viewed frame by frame, breaking each motion sequence into individual parts called “Therbligs” (an anagram of “Gilbreths”). The micromotion team (made up of the Gilbreths and cooperating workers) then evaluated the work process to find ways to make it safer, simpler, faster and more ergonomically correct. They developed and filmed these new procedures and used those films to retrain the factory workers.

….Workers reportedly loved seeing themselves projected onto the big screen, and the Gilbreths set up an exhibition room to periodically screen the films. Lillian believed that these screenings improved morale and output while promoting a unification phenomenon she called “happiness minutes.” Happiness minutes were the total amount of time each day that workers felt satisfied with their jobs. Lillian believed this to be an essential element of efficiency, although they only gauged employee happiness through subjective methods (such as their suggestion box system and general impressions obtained from talking to the workers), and never conducted formal psychological surveys. With this in mind, she and Frank adapted later films taken at the Ball Brothers Mason Jar factory in 1918 to include shots of workers smiling at the camera with their names and even nicknames written at the bottom of the screen.

Read the full article, “Psychology’s First Forays into Film,” online here.

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History of the Human Sciences on Film

Historian Alison Winter, of the University of Chicago, and her colleague Tom Gunning of Art History, Cinema and Media Studies have collaborated on an online library of the films that populate the history of the human sciences. Their project, Motion Pictures in the Human Sciences, is described as

an online library and discussion forum relating to the history of the use of motion pictures in psychology, psychiatry, the neurosciences, and related fields.

The site is the online extension of a new collaboration between film historians and historians of science at the University of Chicago, to study the relationship between the history of the human sciences and the history of film. Our online library contains a growing number of films and related material. Some of the films you can view here have never before been digitized. The site also serves a curatorial role: we have tracked down films available in disparate locations on the web, and have imbedded them here, to make them easier to find, document, and discuss. As this pilot site grows and matures, some of our material will be available for download, and our collection will become more fully searchable.

Among the videos currently available on the site are the very early motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne Jules Marey. Other films featured on the site include John Watson’s Little Albert experiment, Arnold Gesell’s “Life with Baby,” some of the films of motion study pioneer Frank Gilbreth, and a United States military film on combat fatigue, to list only a few examples. A work in progress, more films will to be added to the site in the future. Serving as both a forum for discussion on films and their function in the history of the human sciences, as well as a centralized resource for such films themselves, Motion Pictures in the Human Sciences is sure to be an invaluable resource.

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New Center for HoP Blog

The Center for the History of Psychology (CHP) in Akron, Ohio has just begun a new blog project. The blog will be written by CHP staff, students, and interns and posts will include information on interesting items recently uncovered in the Center’s collections, the experiences of those working with the collections, and CHP events, projects, and initiatives.

The blog’s most recent post was contributed by CHP intern (and AHP contributor) Arlie Belliveau. In this post, she writes of her initial efforts at preserving and digitizing some of the thousands of films housed at the CHP (right). She writes,

After all the paperwork, my passport is stamped, I’ve crossed the border and started my Student Internship with the Center for the History of Psychology in Akron, Ohio. During my one-month internship, I will be working with the CHP’s Moving Image collection, which includes more than 5,000 titles. I find the prospect incredibly exciting, as my Masters thesis research centered around the Micromotion films of scientific managers and industrial psychologists Frank and Dr. Lillian Gilbreth. I was able to work with a selection of their film collection, which had been digitized in 2006 by the National Film Preservation Foundation. That research would not have been possible without that digitization effort. And so, my plan at CHP is to assess the film collection, preserve the canisters at greatest risk of deterioration, and digitize (and make publicly available) whatever I can.

You can read the rest of this blog entry here and subscribe to the CHP blog here.

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