Tag Archives: psychiatry

Human Subjects & Migration and Madness in Social History of Medicine

The November 2015 issue of Social History of Medicine includes several pieces of interest to AHP readers. Articles in this issue include ones that explore the modern construction of human subjects, madness during voyages to New Zealand during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and the use of case records of early 20th century Eastern European emigrants as sources. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Migration and Madness at Sea: The Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-century Voyage to New Zealand,” by Angela McCarthy.

This article draws on a range of sources—including surgeon superintendents’ reports as well as asylum records—to examine the mental health of migrants and crew on the voyage to New Zealand during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It examines key themes such as relations between crew and passengers, the emotional dimensions of insanity, attempts to export the insane, and collaboration between doctors and relatives in adhering to mental health legislation in order to repatriate the insane, all of which facilitate assessment of wider debates about medical authority. While surgeon superintendents documented actions rather than causes for unusual behaviour, asylum doctors and family members were more likely to attempt to explain mental disturbance at sea. Additionally, this article examines the beliefs of medical officials who paradoxically argued that the voyage was beneficial, rather than detrimental, to health.

“Making up ‘Vulnerable’ People: Human Subjects and the Subjective Experience of Medical Experiment,” by Nancy D. Campbell and Laura Stark.

This paper explores how ‘the human subject’ was figured historically and expands the interpretive range available to historians for understanding the subjective experiences of people who have served in medical experiments in the past. We compare LSD studies on healthy ‘volunteers’ conducted in two experimental settings in the 1950s: the US National Institutes of Mental Health’s (NIMH) Addiction Research Center (ARC) Lexington, Kentucky and the NIH Clinical Center (NIHCC) in Bethesda, Maryland. Sources consist of oral history interviews, transcripts and archival documents including photographs and records. Political priorities and historical contingencies relevant for crystalising the expert domain of modern bioethics, especially the 1960s US Civil Rights movement, were central for producing the ‘vulnerability’ attributed to the modern figure of the ‘human subject’. Using Ian Hacking’s historical ontology approach, we suggest how this figure of the ‘vulnerable human subject’ affected historical actors’ self-understandings while foreclosing paths of historical inquiry and interpretation.

“‘Insane emigrants’ in transit. Psychiatric Patients’ Files as a Source for the History of Return Migration, c. 1910,” by Gemma Blok. Continue reading Human Subjects & Migration and Madness in Social History of Medicine

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Oct 29th BPS/UCL Hist Psych Disciplines Talk: “Getting on in Gotham: Preventing Mental Illness in New York City, 1945-1980”

The British Psychological Society‘s History of Psychology Centre, in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines, has announced the next talk in their Autumn seminar series. On Thursday October 29th Matthew Smith (right), of the University of Strathclyde, will be speaking on “Getting on in Gotham: Preventing Mental Illness in New York City, 1945-1980.” Full details can be found here. The abstract reads,

In 1962, the authors of the Mental Health in the Metropolis: The Midtown Manhattan Project made a startling claim: fewer than 1 in 5 (18.5%) Manhattanites were in good mental health. Although a third of the population was believed to suffer only from mild symptoms, a quarter were believed to be incapacitated by their mental health problems. Such figures merely underlined the argument made by many American psychiatrists following the Second World War: that mental illness was rife in American society and that the only way to stop its spread was to undertake preventive action. Responding positively to this rhetoric was President Kennedy who a year later passed the Community Mental Health Act, which had prevention at its core. By 1980, however, preventive psychiatry was on the wane, to be eclipsed by psychopharmacology. This paper examines how preventive approaches to mental illness were conceptualised and introduced in New York City, paying particular attention to the perceived relationship between the urban environment and mental health.


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New JHBS: Psychiatry & Religion, Magnétisme, & More

The Fall 2015 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioural Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue explore psychiatry and religion in the mid-twentieth century, continuities from magnétisme in late-nineteenth century discourse on hypnotism, and more. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.


Karl Stern, MD (1906–1975) was the author of The Pillar of Fire (1951) and three nonfiction books on psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and religion. His novel, Through Dooms of Love (1960), written with the assistance of his friend and admirer Graham Greene, covers a number of topics that were to psychiatric theory, treatment, and research at mid-century, and reflects several features of his own personal and professional vicissitudes.


In 1880s France, hypnotism enjoyed unique medico-scientific legitimacy. This was in striking contrast to preceding decades when its precursor, magnétisme animal, was rejected by the medical/academic establishment as a disreputable, supernaturally tinged practice. Did the legitimation of hypnotism result from researchers repudiating any reference to the wondrous? Or did strands of magnetic thinking persist? This article interrogates the relations among hypnotism, magnétisme, and the domain of the wondrous through close analysis of scientific texts on hypnotism. In question is the notion that somnambulist subjects possessed hyperacute senses, enabling them to perceive usually imperceptible signs, and thus inadvertently to denature researchers’ experiments (a phenomenon known as unconscious suggestion). The article explores researchers’ uncritical and unanimous acceptance of these ideas, arguing that they originate in a holdover from magnétisme. This complicates our understanding of the continuities and discontinuities between science and a precursor “pseudo-science,” and, more narrowly, of the notorious Salpêtrière-Nancy “battle” over hypnotism.

“KNOWLEDGE ECOLOGIES, “SUPPLE” OBJECTS, AND DIFFERENT PRIORITIES ACROSS WOMEN’S AND GENDER STUDIES PROGRAMS AND DEPARTMENTS IN THE UNITED STATES, 1970–2010,” by Christine Virginia Wood. The abstract reads, Continue reading New JHBS: Psychiatry & Religion, Magnétisme, & More

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New HHS: Sleep Laboratories, Psychiatry in Penguin Books, & More

The October 2015 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue explore participant observation in a sleep laboratory (right), publications on psychiatric topics in Penguin Books, and social scientific representations of consumer debt. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“On a not so chance encounter of neurophilosophy and science studies in a sleep laboratory,” by Nicolas Langlitz. The abstract reads,

This article was inspired by participant observation of a contemporary collaboration between empirically oriented philosophers of mind and neuroscientists. An encounter between this anthropologist of science and neurophilosophers in a Finnish sleep laboratory led to the following philosophical exploration of the intellectual space shared by neurophilosophy and science studies. Since these fields emerged in the 1970s, scholars from both sides have been visiting brain research facilities, but engaged with neuroscientists very differently and passionately fought with each other over the reduction of mind to brain. As a case in point, this article looks at the philosophical controversy over the dreaming brain. It serves as a window on the problem space opened up by the demise of positivist conceptions of science, now inhabited by both neurophilosophy and science studies. Both fields face the problem of how to bridge the gap between empirical research and conceptual work. At a time when ontological speculation has made a comeback in these areas of research, studies on how epistemic objects manifest themselves in the material culture of neuroscience could help neurophilosophers to become better materialists. In the sleep laboratory, however, the materiality of dreams continues to be elusive. In dreaming science studies and neurophilosophy encounter a phenomenon that – at least in 2015 – still invites a positivist rather than a materialist attitude.

“Debt, consumption and freedom: Social scientific representations of consumer credit in Anglo-America,” by Donncha Marron. The abstract reads, Continue reading New HHS: Sleep Laboratories, Psychiatry in Penguin Books, & More

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New Book: Under the Strain of Color: Harlem’s Lafargue Clinic and the Promise of an Antiracist Psychiatry

Gabriel N. Mendes, an Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies and of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of California, San Diego, has a new book out: Under the Strain of Color: Harlem’s Lafargue Clinic and the Promise of an Antiracist Psychiatry. As described on the Cornell University Press website,

In Under the Strain of Color, Gabriel N. Mendes recaptures the history of a largely forgotten New York City institution that embodied new ways of thinking about mental health, race, and the substance of citizenship. Harlem’s Lafargue Mental Hygiene Clinic was founded in 1946 as both a practical response to the need for low-cost psychotherapy and counseling for black residents (many of whom were recent migrants to the city) and a model for nationwide efforts to address racial disparities in the provision of mental health care in the United States.

The result of a collaboration among the psychiatrist and social critic Dr. Fredric Wertham, the writer Richard Wright, and the clergyman Rev. Shelton Hale Bishop, the clinic emerged in the context of a widespread American concern with the mental health of its citizens. It proved to be more radical than any other contemporary therapeutic institution, however, by incorporating the psychosocial significance of antiblack racism and class oppression into its approach to diagnosis and therapy.

Mendes shows the Lafargue Clinic to have been simultaneously a scientific and political gambit, challenging both a racist mental health care system and supposedly color-blind psychiatrists who failed to consider the consequences of oppression in their assessment and treatment of African American patients. Employing the methods of oral history, archival research, textual analysis, and critical race philosophy, Under the Strain of Color contributes to a growing body of scholarship that highlights the interlocking relationships among biomedicine, institutional racism, structural violence, and community health activism.

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Sept 26th Conference: “Psychiatry and Other Cultures: A Historical Perspective”

As part of Mental Health Week events in Reggio Emilia, Italy the Museum for the History of Psychiatry is holding a one-day conference on “Psychiatry and Other Cultures: A Historical Perspective.” The conference will take September 26th, 2015. The full program and registration details follow below.

“Psychiatry and other cultures: A historical perspective”
September 26th 2015
Museum for the history of psychiatry
Via Amendola, 2- Padiglione Lombroso
Reggio Emilia

H 8.30 Participants registration

H 9.00
Welcome address Gaddomaria Grassi

H 9.30
Opening session Luigi Benevelli

H 10.00
The “Devereux case” in the history of ethnopsychiatry, Alessandra Cerea

Transcultural psychiatry, decolonization and nationalism: Comparisans between Nigeria and India, Matthew M. Heaton

Beyond colonial psychiatry? The indigenization of psychiatry of British India, 1900-1940, Waltraud Ernst

Psychiatry in the ltalian colanies of Africa, Marianna Scarfone

H 12.00 Conference conclusion
Epistemology of Cultural Psychiatry, German E. Berrios

H 13.00
Questions and discussions

For info and registration send an e-mail at: bombardieric@ausl.re.it

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History and the Hoffman Report: A Round-Up

Chances are you, like us, have been following the fall out from the American Psychological Association’s Hoffman Report, which details how the organization colluded with the United States government to ensure psychologists remained part of its torture program. While there are a ton of opinion pieces floating around in the wake of the report, we thought we’d highlight a few pieces that take a particularly historical view on the current situation.

Over on the Hidden Persuaders blog, part of a project on Cold War era brainwashing efforts, Marcia Holmes has written “What we’re reading now: The APA report.” Holmes details the events leading up to the Hoffman Report and situates psychology’s involvement in torture in relation to the emergence of “operational psychology.” The fundamental tension between “operational psychology” and ethics, Holmes argues, may never be resolved. Read the full piece online here.

BBC Radio program Witness has produced an episode on “CIA Mind Control Experiments” in the 1950s. While this piece is not directly about the Hoffman Report, it documents  the long history of relations between psychology and the CIA:

In the 1950s the CIA started attempting to brainwash psychiatric patients. They wanted to develop methods which could be used against enemies in the Cold War. Hear from one man whose father was experimented on in a Canadian psychiatric hospital.

The full 10-minute episode can be heard online here.

Finally historian Laura Stark, writing in Inside Higher Ed, explains “Why Ethics Codes Fail.” Stark, having previously written about the first ethics code adopted by the APA in 1973, argues that,

The APA’s current ethics mess is a problem inherent to its method of setting professional ethics policy and a problem that faces professional organizations more broadly. Professions’ codes of ethics are made to seem anonymous, dropped into the world by some higher moral authority. But ethics codes have authors. In the long term, the APA’s problems will not be solved by repeating the same process that empowers a select elite to write ethics policy, then removes their connection to it.

All ethics codes have authors who work to erase the appearance of their influence. Personal interests are inevitable, if not unmanageable, and it may be best for the APA — and other professional groups — to keep the link between an ethics policy and its authors. Take a new lesson from the Hippocratic oath by observing its name. The APA should make its ethics policies like most other papers that scientists write: give the code of ethics a byline.

Read the full piece online here.

If there are other historically focused responses to the Hoffman Report that we’ve missed please feel free to add them in the comments!

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Special Issue of Medical History on Skill in Medicine & Science

MDHThe new issue of Medical History  (guest edited by Nicholas Whitfield and Thomas Schlich at the Social Studies of Medicine program at McGill) is focused on the theme of skill in the history of medicine and science. The editorial is historiographically interesting as a survey of skill as an historical category (among many relevant to both the histories of medicine and psychology, including the history of observation, objectivity, emotion, and the senses).

Additionally, articles of interest include those about: Adolf Meyer’s influence on 20th century psychiatric clinical skills; the “discourse of skills” used to establish post-War British neuropathology; the norms of conduct within the first generation of neurosurgeons 1900-1930; and the debates between animal behaviorists and molecular biologists on best practices in the experimental manipulation of mouse DNA  (and the interpretation thereof). There are also a number of pertinent reviews on books about: insanity and colonialism in post-emancipation Caribbean; gender and class in turn of the 20th century British asylums; and the analysis of Nazi psychology at Nuremberg.


Selected abstracts read as follows: Continue reading Special Issue of Medical History on Skill in Medicine & Science

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Resource: Online Guide to Medical Humanities Dissertations

Margaret DeLacy over at the H-Scholar network has linked to a resource that could be of interest to our readership: a large collection of ProQuest info for dissertations from subject areas within the umbrella of the ‘medical humanities’ that has been compiled by the University of Pittsburgh’s History of Medicine Librarian, John Erlen.

Find the main list of subjects here.

Erlen has been contributing to the collection on a monthly basis since 2001, and when you click on each topic of interest it takes you to his most recent addition. However at the top of each page there is also the option to “browse all available months for this topic,” which takes you to the full sub-list for the subject area (e.g. Psychiatry/Psychology and History).


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Remembering Oak Ridge: A Digital Exhibit

Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene (circa 2000s). Aerial photograph of Oak Ridge. In J. L. Bazar (Ed.), Remembering Oak Ridge digital archive and exhibit
Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene (circa 2000s). Aerial photograph of Oak Ridge. In J. L. Bazar (Ed.), Remembering Oak Ridge digital archive and exhibit

AHP‘s very own contributor Jennifer Bazar  has curated a fascinating online historical archive and exhibit on the Oak Ridge forensic mental health division of the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care in Penetanguishene, Ontario. Find the exhibit here.

Established in 1933 and closed last year (2014), the Oak Ridge division at Waypoint was Ontario’s only maximum security forensic hospital served by both the provincial criminal justice and mental health systems. The exhibit opens the locked doors of its eighty one year history “to dispel the misconceptions and stereotypes that surround forensic mental health care centres and their clients,” and compellingly tells its unique story by sharing artefacts, photographs, and archival documents “to demonstrate how treatment practices, security restrictions, and individual experiences both changed and remained consistent” throughout the institute’s existence. Exhibit sections include: Origins, Building, Legislation, Treatment, Daily Life, Patients, Staff, Research, and Community.

You can also browse through the exhibit content here (400+ items total: photos, docs, artefacts, audio, video), and please look forward to further additions to the collection over the next year including “personal experiences from patient case records, interviews, and oral histories with former staff members of the Oak Ridge division.”


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