Tag Archives: Samuel Morton

New Articles: Psychosomatic Illness, Crania Americana, & Hypnotism

A number of new articles of interest to AHP readers are now in print. Relevant articles from the most recent issues of Subjectivity, the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, and History of Science are listed below.

Subjectivity

Psychosomatic feelings as memory practices,” by Elena Trivelli. The abstract reads,

I here explore the manifestation of problematic memories on a psychosomatic level, with a focus on the work of psychiatrist Franco Basaglia (1924–1980) in the Italian city of Gorizia. As Basaglia transformed the local asylum into a Therapeutic Community during the 1960s, the city became a nationally acclaimed pilot for alternative psychiatry. After he left in 1968, Gorizia’s characterisation in the media shifted from being a radical experiment to a failed revolution, and the city has since held an ambiguous relationship with this heritage. Using the data gathered through an ethnography conducted between 2011 and 2012, I suggest that the controversial vicissitudes of ‘the Basaglia experience’ and the attempts to erase their emotional weight in Gorizia have left traces that I frame as embodied remembering practices. In discussing psychosomatic expressions of social discomfort, I formulate a body that is both somatic and psychological, contributing to a field at the intersection between psychoanalysis, trauma and affect studies.

Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

Panic and Culture: Hysterike Pnix in the Ancient Greek World,” by Susan P. Mattern. The abstract reads,

Starting perhaps in the second century BCE, and with Hippocratic precedent, ancient medical writers described a condition they called hysterike pnix or “uterine suffocation.” This paper argues that uterine suffocation was, in modern terms, a functional somatic syndrome characterized by chronic anxiety and panic attacks. Transcultural psychiatrists have identified and described a number of similar panic-type syndromes in modern populations, and a plausible theory of how they work has been advanced. These insights, applied to the ancient disease of hysterike pnix, demystify the condition and illuminate the experience of the women who suffered from it.

History of Science

The fear of simulation: Scientific authority in late 19th-century French disputes over hypnotism,” by Kim M. Hajek. The abstract reads,

This article interrogates the way/s in which rival schools studying hypnotism in late 19th-century France framed what counts as valid evidence for the purposes of science. Concern over the scientific reality of results is particularly situated in the notion of simulation (the faking of results); the respective approaches to simulation of the Salpêtrière and Nancy schools are analysed through close reading of key texts: Binet and Féré for the Salpêtrière, and Bernheim for Nancy. The article reveals a striking divergence between their scientific frames, which helps account for the bitterness of the schools’ disputes. It then explores Bernheim’s construction of scientific authority in more detail, for insights into the messiness entailed by theorizing hypnotism in psychical terms, while also attempting to retain scientific legitimacy. Indicative of this messiness, it is argued, is the way in which Bernheim’s (apparently inconsistent) approach draws on multiple epistemic frames.

National types: The transatlantic publication and reception of Crania Americana (1839),” by James Poskett. The abstract reads, Continue reading New Articles: Psychosomatic Illness, Crania Americana, & Hypnotism

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Podcast: Ann Fabian on The Skull Collectors

AHP‘s readers may be interested in a podcast interview with historian Ann Fabian (left) produced by the New Books Network (as part of both the New Books in History and New Books in Science, Technology, and Society series). Fabian was interviewed about her 2010 book, The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead, which details the near obsession with the skull exhibited by some in the scientific community in the nineteenth century.

The work of American Samuel Morton is the particular focus of Fabian’s book, and she recounts Morton’s efforts to hierarchically arrange the races according to their skull size and shape, which was thought to correspond with brain size and, more important still, degree of intelligence. Morton’s work was most famously criticized in Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, where Gould revisited Morton’s skull measurements and concluded that Morton fudged his data. This claim has since been challenged by others, most recently – and controversially – by a group of anthropologists who went back and remeasured Morton’s skulls and challenged Gould’s analysis.

As described by the University of Chicago Press,

When Philadelphia naturalist Samuel George Morton died in 1851, no one cut off his head, boiled away its flesh, and added his grinning skull to a collection of crania. It would have been strange, but perhaps fitting, had Morton’s skull wound up in a collector’s cabinet, for Morton himself had collected hundreds of skulls over the course of a long career. Friends, diplomats, doctors, soldiers, and fellow naturalists sent him skulls they gathered from battlefields and burial grounds across America and around the world.

With The Skull Collectors, eminent historian Ann Fabian resurrects that popular and scientific movement, telling the strange—and at times gruesome—story of Morton, his contemporaries, and their search for a scientific foundation for racial difference. From cranial measurements and museum shelves to heads on stakes, bloody battlefields, and the “rascally pleasure” of grave robbing, Fabian paints a lively picture of scientific inquiry in service of an agenda of racial superiority, and of a society coming to grips with both the deadly implications of manifest destiny and the mass slaughter of the Civil War. Even as she vividly recreates the past, Fabian also deftly traces the continuing implications of this history, from lingering traces of scientific racism to debates over the return of the remains of Native Americans that are held by museums to this day. Continue reading Podcast: Ann Fabian on The Skull Collectors

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