The July 2016 issue of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences includes an article of interest to AHP readers. The piece describes the use of breathing exercises as a treatment for neurasthenia in Japan in the first half of the twentieth century. Full details follow below.
“A Disorder of Qi: Breathing Exercise as a Cure for Neurasthenia in Japan, 1900–1945,” by Yu-Chuan Wu. The abstract reads,
Neurasthenia became a common disease and caused widespread concern in Japan at the turn of the twentieth century, whereas only a couple of decades earlier the term “nerve” had been unfamiliar, if not unknown, to many Japanese. By exploring the theories and practices of breathing exercise—one of the most popular treatments for neurasthenia at the time—this paper attempts to understand how people who practiced breathing exercises for their nervous ills perceived, conceived, and accordingly cared for their nerves. It argues that they understood “nerve” based on their existing conceptions of qi. Neurasthenia was for them a disorder of qi, although the qi had assumed modern appearances as blood and nervous current. The paper hopes to contribute to the understanding of how the concept of nerves has been accepted and assimilated in East Asia. It also points out the need to understand the varied cultures of nerves not only at the level of concept and metaphor, but also at the level of perception and experience.
The June 2013 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Included in this issue are articles on diagnostic categories in the DSM, erogtism in Norway, and relationship between Japanese and German psychiatry before World War II. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Ergotism in Norway. Part 2: The symptoms and their interpretation from the eighteenth century onwards,” by Torbjørn Alm and Brita Elvevåg. The abstract reads,
Ergotism, the disease caused by consuming Claviceps purpurea, a highly poisonous, grain-infecting fungus, occurred at various places scattered throughout Norway during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By focusing on these cases we chart the changing interpretations of the peculiar disease, frequently understood within a religious context or considered as a supernatural (e.g. ghostly) experience. However, there was a growing awareness of the disease ergotism, and from the late eighteenth century onwards it was often correctly interpreted as being due to a fungus consumed via bread or porridge. Also, nineteenth-century fairy-tales and regional legends reveal that people were increasingly aware and fearful of the effects of consuming infected grain.
The April 2012 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. This month’s issue is a special issue, guest edited by Elizabeth Valentine, on the topic of parapsychology, occultism, and spiritualism. The eight all new articles in the issue explore the history of psychology’s relationship to spiritualism and other occult matters across the globe; most specifically in the Netherlands, the United States of America, Germany, Britain, France, Spain, Hungary, and Japan. (Pictured above is medium Eusapia Palladino, the subject of one of the issues articles, in a seance in 1898.) Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Psychical research and parapsychology interpreted: Suggestions from the international historiography of psychical research and parapsychology for investigating its history in the Netherlands,” by Ingrid Kloosterman. The abstract reads,
One of the reasons the history of parapsychology and its ancestor psychical research is intriguing is because it addresses a central issue: the boundaries of science. This article provides an overview of the historiography of parapsychology and presents an approach to investigate the Dutch history of parapsychology contributing to the understanding of this central theme. In the first section the historical accounts provided by psychical researchers and parapsychologists themselves are discussed; next those studies of sociologists and historians understanding parapsychology as deviant and even potentially revolutionary are dealt with; third, more contemporary studies are examined whereby enterprises such as parapsychology are understood as central to the culture in which they arose. On the basis of this analysis a new direction in the historiography of the subject is suggested in the fourth section, centred upon the relation between parapsychology and psychology in the Netherlands throughout the 20th century. In the Netherlands not only were pioneering psychologists such as Gerard Heymans (1857–1930) actively involved in experiments into telepathy, the first professor in parapsychology in the world – Wilhelm Tenhaeff (1894–1981) – was appointed in 1953 at Utrecht University and in the 1970s and 1980s parapsychology had its own research laboratory at Utrecht University in the division of psychology. This unique situation in the Netherlands deserves scholarly attention and makes an interesting case to investigate the much-neglected connections between the fields of psychology and parapsychology in the 20th century. The connections between psychology and parapsychology might help us to understand why parapsychology came to be regarded as a pseudoscience.