Punch-Drunk Slugnuts: Violence and the Vernacular History of Disease

AHP readers may be interested in a piece in the June 2022 issue of Isis: “Punch-Drunk Slugnuts: Violence and the Vernacular History of Disease,” by Stephen T. Casper. Abstract:

The observation that neurological illnesses follow recurrent hits to the head was tempered by the terms that first called the diseases into scientific existence: “punch-drunk,” “slugnutty,” “slaphappy,” “goofy,” “punchy,” and a host of other colloquialisms accompanying class identities. Thus the discovery of disease and its medicalization ran straight into a countervailing belief about losers—losers in boxing, losers in life, losers in general. To medicalize such individuals was to fly in the face of a culture that made them jokes. Yet a subculture began to emerge around pathological understandings: first in medicine, then in journalism, then in the courts, and finally with patient accounts about illness.

New History of Psychiatry: Negative Emotions, Latent Schizophrenia, and More

The June 2022 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Titles, authors, and abstracts below.

“Fear, disgust, hate: negative emotions evoked by animals in ancient literature,” Lucyna Kostuch. Abstract:

Ancient literature contains thoughts, observations and opinions about animals causing fear, disgust or hate that can be of great interest to scientists researching the problem of phobias, fears and anxieties in history. So in this article, it is argued that we can go as far back as ancient times in the research on the history of animal phobias (or, speaking more generally, in research on the entire spectrum of negative emotions evoked by animals in individuals or in entire social groups or societies). In that period, the phenomenon was observed and described in an anecdotal form, and attempts to establish the causes of this phenomenon were undertaken. This article discusses these early ideas about phobias, fears and anxieties related to animals.

“Gustav Nikolaus Specht (1860–1940) life data: psychiatric practice, research and teaching during a change of psychiatric paradigm before and after Kraepelin,” Birgit Braun, Johannes Kornhuber. Open access. Abstract:

Gustav Specht (1860–1940) developed academic psychiatry in Erlangen. After studying medicine in Würzburg, Munich and Berlin, he became assistant medical director in the mental asylum of Erlangen. In 1897 he was appointed extraordinary, and in 1903 ordinary, Professor of Psychiatry. A good clinician and teacher, Specht worked during a time of paradigm change in psychiatry. He was an expert in chronic mania, and introduced the concept of the ‘grumbler’s delusion’. Paranoia he believed to be the core problem of psychopathology and considered the depressive syndrome as an ‘exogenous-type’ of reaction. For him, trauma was important in the genesis of mental illness, and his ‘hystero-melancholy’ anticipated the concept of borderline personality disorder.

“Foreign medical graduates and American psychiatry,” Laura Hirshbein. Abstract:

Graduates from foreign medical schools (FMGs) began to staff US state psychiatric hospitals after World War II, and became increasingly associated with the poor quality of those institutions. Public and professional commentary on FMGs criticized their skills and suitability for the US healthcare system in the 1970s, at the same time that state hospitals were under increasing attack. By the 1980s and 1990s, the association between international medical graduates (as they became known) and underserved populations became an argument in favour of easing restrictions on these graduates. The role of foreign-trained psychiatrists in the US public sector became a way for American psychiatry leaders to manage the problems of the seriously mentally ill, first with blame and then with neglect.

“Supply or demand? Institutionalization of the mentally ill in the emerging Swedish welfare state, 1900–59,” Liselotte Eriksson, Johan Junkka, Glenn Sandström, Lotta Vikström. Abstract:

Historical studies on the institutionalization of the mentally ill have primarily relied on data for institutionalized patients rather than the population at risk. Consequently, the underlying factors of institutionalization are unclear. Using Swedish longitudinal microdata from 1900–59 reporting mental disorders, we examine whether supply factors, such as distance to institutions and number of asylum beds, influenced the risk of institutionalization, in addition to demand factors such as access to family. Institutionalization risks were associated with the supply of beds and proximity to an asylum, but also dependent on families’ unmet demand for care of relatives. As the supply of mental care met this family-driven demand in the 1930s, the relative risk of institutionalization increased among those lacking family networks.

“The case of Dr Pownall – mad doctor, sane patient and insane murderer,” Peter Carpenter. Open access. Abstract:

Dr Pownall was a surgeon, asylum proprietor and one-time mayor of Calne who had bouts of insanity. He had two serious bouts of violence when insane, and later murdered a servant, Louisa Cook, after his discharge from Northwoods Asylum as recovered. He was tried for murder and ended up in Broadmoor, where he died in 1882. There are extensive contemporary public accounts of the case, but detailed examination of the roles of the local chief magistrate, Purnell Barnsby Purnell, and Pownall’s brother-in-law and asylum doctor, Dr Ogilvie, reveals severe tensions that adversely influenced events. Everyone defended themselves, and few lessons were learned about cooperation.

“The ‘insanity’ of Lady Durham,” Ruth Paley. Open access. Abstract:

This essay draws on evidence in a late nineteenth-century court case and surviving medical notes to provide a case study of a hitherto unidentified case of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The case is particularly interesting in that it not only appears to be the first identification of historical ASD in a female, but also because the patient subsequently developed symptoms of psychosis suggestive of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. The unusual survival of detailed medical notes also throws light on the ways in which a difficult patient was treated by supposedly enlightened pioneers of psychiatry.

“On the origins of the concept of ‘latent schizophrenia’ in Russian psychiatry,” Birk Engmann. Abstract:

In the mid-twentieth century in the Soviet Union, latent schizophrenia became an important concept and a matter of research and also of punitive psychiatry. This article investigates precursor concepts in early Russian psychiatry of the nineteenth century, and examines whether – as claimed in recent literature – Russian and Soviet research on latent schizophrenia was mainly influenced by the work of Eugen Bleuler.

Insomnia, Medicalization, and Expert Knowledge

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in the April issue of the Canadian Journal of Health History: “Insomnia, Medicalization, and Expert Knowledge,” by Kenton Kroker. Abstract:

Historians have clearly articulated the ways in which sleeplessness has long been part of the human condition. As an object of medical expertise and public health intervention, however, insomnia is a much more recent invention, having gained its status as a pathology during the 1870s. But while insomnia has attracted considerable and concerted attention from public health authorities allied with sleep medicine specialists, this phenomenon is not well explained by classical medicalization theory, in part because it is the sleepless sufferers, not the medical experts, who typically have the authority to diagnose insomnia. The dynamics of insomnia’s history are better described as those of a boundary object, around which concepts and practices of biomedicine and psychology coalesce to frame contemporary notions of self-medicalization and self-experiment.

Les historiens ont bien montré comment l’insomnie fait depuis longtemps partie de la condition humaine. Toutefois, en tant qu’objet d’expertise médicale et d’intervention de santé publique, elle représente une invention beaucoup plus récente et acquiert un statut de pathologie dans les années 1870. Même si l’insomnie a reçu une attention considérable de la part des autorités de la santé publique et des spécialistes des troubles du sommeil, elle demeure mal comprise par la théorie classique de la médicalisation, en partie parce que ce sont les insomniaques eux-mêmes – et non les experts médicaux – qui détiennent l’autorité nécessaire pour diagnostiquer une insomnie. De fait, la dynamique de l’histoire de l’insomnie se comprend mieux lorsqu’on envisage celle-ci comme un objet-limite autour duquel les concepts et les pratiques de la biomédecine et de la psychologie se combinent pour délimiter les notions contemporaines d’automédicalisation et d’auto-expérimentation.

Composing Well-being: Mental Health and the Mass Observation Project in Twentieth-Century Britain

A new piece in Social History of Medicine may interest AHP readers: “Composing Well-being: Mental Health and the Mass Observation Project in Twentieth-Century Britain” by Andrew Burchell and Mathew Thomson. Abstract:

This article argues that the Mass Observation Project (MOP) at the University of Sussex offers a unique window onto the history of mental health and the voices of those who have lived with mental health conditions during the late-twentieth century. This article analyses how a sample of MOP participants use their writing to reflect on their experiences, and compose narratives about, mental illness over time. More specifically, we suggest that MOP’s capacity for the longitudinal study of individual respondents (underutilised by historians of mental health) offers exciting historiographical and methodological possibilities, not just in the history of mental health but for historians of medicine more generally. We conclude by considering how, for a handful of the participants in the project, mental health is entwined with MOP, as project participants deploy the archive to write about their experiences and even find something akin to therapy in the narrative act.

Reflections from Pioneering Women in Psychology

A new book will interest AHP readers: Reflections from Pioneering Women in Psychology edited by Jamila Bookwala and Nicky J. Newton. The book is described as follows:

This volume traces the life journeys of a cohort of influential and transformative women in psychology, now in or nearing retirement, who have changed the discipline and the broader world of academia in significant ways. The 26 reflective essays record how these scholars thrived in an academic landscape that was often, at best, unwelcoming, and, at worst, hostile, toward them. They explicitly and implicitly acknowledge that their paths were inextricably linked with the evolution of women’s roles in society; they highlight and celebrate their achievements as much as they acknowledge and recognize the obstacles, barriers, and hurdles they overcame. They tell their stories with candor and humor, resulting in a compilation of inspiring essays. The end result of these individual narratives is a volume that provides a unique resource for current and future academics to help them navigate through the crossroads, curves, and challenges of their own careers in academia.


Foreword: Jennifer Lodi-Smith
Introduction: The voices of remarkable women in psychology Nicky J. Newton and Jamila Bookwala
1. Hardly a straight line: My career in psychology Leona S. Aiken
2. Challenging paradigms: It takes a village Carolyn Aldwin
3. From young and naïve to old and experienced Toni C. Antonucci
4. Being the change you want to see in the world Susan Basow
5. Accidental professor Joan C. Chrisler
6. Finding a place and changing the space Kay Deaux
7. The more you do, the better it gets Florence Denmark
8. Happily ever after Phoebe C. Ellsworth
9. Love and work: How to (and not to) have both Susan T. Fiske
10. Overcoming obstacles and thriving Irene Hanson Frieze
11. Out of the box: Forging a clinical career in clinical psychology in the liberal arts academy Laurie Heatherington
12. Stress has been good to me: My career in psychoneuroimmunology Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser
13. On pioneering at northwestern university…with a ‘Village’ of supports Diana Slaughter Kotzin
14. Against all odds: An American Indian creates a path Marigold Linton
15. Tricked by memory Elizabeth F. Loftus
16. Doing psychology in unsettled times Jeanne Marecek
17. Overcoming obstacles: Persisting, pivoting and paying attention to unforeseen opportunities Rachel Pruchno
18. Knocking on doors that opened for me Lauren B. Resnick
19. Paths unexpected, but rewarding, during an academic journey Karen S. Rook
20. Reflections on an improbable journey Carol D. Ryff 
21. The delicate art of balancing serendipity and plan fullness in an academic career Stephanie A. Shields
22. A “skin in the game” scaffolded career Margaret Beale Spencer
23. A wonderful journey along an unforeseen path: Memoir of an improbable career Mary Ann Parris Stephens
24. Choosing both: Finding a path as an academic feminist Abigail J. Stewart
25. Identity and my life story in psychology Susan Krauss Whitbourne
26. Doing what matters: A framework for academic success Camille Wortman
Conclusion: Reflecting on the collective Jamila Bookwala and Nicky J. Newton.

Young Foucault: The Lille Manuscripts on Psychopathology, Phenomenology, and Anthropology, 1952–1955

AHP readers may be interested in a forthcoming book Young Foucault: The Lille Manuscripts on Psychopathology, Phenomenology, and Anthropology, 1952–1955 by Elisabetta Basso. Translated by Marie Satya McDonough. Foreword by Bernard E. Harcourt. The book is described as follows:

In the 1950s, long before his ascent to international renown, Michel Foucault published a scant few works. His early writings on psychology, psychopathology, and anthropology have been dismissed as immature. However, recently discovered manuscripts from the mid-1950s, when Foucault was a lecturer at the University of Lille, testify to the significance of the work that the philosopher produced in the years leading up to the “archaeological” project he launched with History of Madness.

Elisabetta Basso offers a groundbreaking and in-depth analysis of Foucault’s Lille manuscripts that sheds new light on the origins of his philosophical project. She considers the epistemological style and methodology of these writings as well as their philosophical context and the scholarly networks in which Foucault was active, foregrounding his relationship to existential psychiatry. Young Foucault blurs the boundaries between biography and theory, exploring the transformations—and, at times, contradictions—that characterize the intellectual trajectory of a philosopher who, as Foucault himself put it, “turned to psychology, and from psychology to history.” Retracing the first steps of the philosopher’s intellectual journey, Basso shows how Foucault’s early writings provide key insights into his archaeological work of the 1960s. Assembling a vast array of archival sources—including manuscripts, reading notes, notes for lectures and conferences, and correspondence—this book develops a new and deeper understanding of Foucault’s body of work.

Writing good economics: How texts ‘on the move’ perform the lab and discipline of experimental economics

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in Social Studies of Science: “Writing good economics: How texts ‘on the move’ perform the lab and discipline of experimental economics,” by Kristin Asdal and Béatrice Cointe. Abstract:

How is objectivity accomplished in laboratory economic experiments? To address this question, this paper focuses on a modest and mundane thing: the written instructions that guide experimental subjects in the lab. In a material-semiotic perspective, these instructions can be understood as text-devices. We follow text-devices ‘on the move’ from their very writing, through the lab, the review process and out into the journal article. To do so, we analyse ‘text-author ensembles’, which are journal articles together with practice-oriented interviews with their authors. We show that instructions act not simply as texts, but as experimental instruments that also perform the procedure of experimental economics. They draw together the procedural, material and rhetorical dimensions of experimental work in economics, and link the lab setting to collective validation procedures within the discipline of economics. To achieve this, experimental economists rely on qualitative writing skills refined in collective writing and reviewing practices. These text-devices ‘on the move’ alert us not only to the role of writing and writing skills in the production of scientific knowledge, but to the role of texts as material and semiotic objects that can produce facts as well as labs and disciplines, and that are key to the accomplishment of objectivity in experimental economics.

Hacking the Brain? Histories of Technology and Mind Control Conference, 16-17 June 2022

AHP readers may be interested in a conference taking place June 16 and 17, 2022 at the Centre for Health and Humanities, the University of Groningen. It will be in a hybrid format. Participation can be in person (for a small fee) or online.

The “Hacking the Brain? Histories of Technology and Mind Control” conference is described as:

The world today is haunted by dreams and anxieties about technology and the brain, from the role of companies such as Cambridge Analytica in elections to hypercapitalist visions of seamless consumerism and concerns about the power of ‘behaviour modification’ in a world ‘surveillance capitalism’. More broadly, profound assumptions of technology as a form of stimulating ‘input’ leading to emotional arousal in a computer-like brain, a stimulus-response mechanism akin to an electric charge, are at the heart of much of both the defence and critique of the emerging digital world.

However, fears about the power of modern technology to make human subjects into the puppets of unseen masters to manipulate whole populations are not a new phenomenon. Twenty-first-century anxieties draw on decades of discourse on different types of technology as vehicles for brainwashing, hypnosis or mind control techniques, adding a technological angle to traditions of ‘magical’ objects supposedly able to ‘enchant’ others. In contexts as diverse as Enlightenment Mesmerism, psychiatric diagnoses related to ‘Influencing Machines,’ Cold War Behaviourist models of stimulated subjects, Critical Theory denunciations of the ‘Culture Industry’ and conspiracy theories about everything from TV to 5G networks, the notion of technology as a means of mind control has had a powerful attraction.

This conference will examine this shifting discourse, looking at the role of technological, cultural, ideological and medical factors in framing fears about culture, technology and individual autonomy.

Provisional Programme

Thursday 16 June

13:00-14:00 – Registration/lunch

14:00-15:30- *Panel 1- British Mind Control *

Rhodri Hayward, (Queen Mary, London), “Poltergeists and Telepaths:
 Mind Control and the Problem of Agency in 1970s Britain.”

Mike Jay, “Mind Control’s Patient Zero: James Tilly Matthews and
the Air Loom”

15:30-15:45 – tea/coffee

15:45-17:15 *Panel 2 – Brain Control*

Rebecca Lemov (Harvard), “Just Because They’re After You: The
Return of Brain Control in Anti-Violence Scientific Crusades of the 1970s.”

Anthony Enns (Dalhousie), “Brain Control: The Weaponization of
Psychotechnologies in Cold War Science.”

17:15-17:30 – tea/coffee

17:30-19:00 *Panel 3 – Mind Control and Capitalism *

Bernd Bösel (Potsdam), “The Spectre of Digital Mind Control:
Shoshana Zuboff’s *The Age of Surveillance Capitalism* and its Critics.”

Natasha Dow Schull (NYU), “Custom Mind Control: Personalized
Volatility in Digital Gambling.”

19:15 – Dinner – Bistro ‘t Gerecht

Friday 17 June

12:00-12:15 – lunch

12:15-13:45 – *Panel 4 – Control *

Maarten Derksen (Groningen), “Control out of Control.”

Marc Tuters (Amsterdam), The Concept of ‘Control’ in Media Theory
and Conspiracy Theory about the Internet.”

13:45-14:00 – tea/coffee

14:00-16:15 *Panel 5 – Cultures of Mind Control *

Fleur Hopkins-Loferon (Paris), “Parasite Culture: Host Manipulation
in SF Imaginary (1980-2020).”

James Kennaway (Groningen), “Enchanted Technology: Musical Mind
Control in Conspiracy Theory.”

Kenneth White (Binghamton), “Hyperventilation Syndrome: Media
Cultures, Control Societies—circa 1970.”

16:15-16:30 – tea/coffee

16:30-18:00 – *Panel 6 – Paranoia*

Andreas Killen (City College), “Stroboscope and the Paranoid Style.”

Jeffrey Sconce (Northwestern), “Field and Stream in Paranoid Ideation.”

Mind and knowledge in the early thought of Franz Boas, 1887–1904

A new piece in History of the Human Sciences will interest AHP readers: “Mind and knowledge in the early thought of Franz Boas, 1887–1904,” Valentina Mann. Abstract:

Franz Boas’ articulation of a new historicist and relativistic framework for anthropology stands as the founding moment of the discipline. Accordingly, scholars have sought to trace its source and inspirations, often concluding that Boas’ thought was shaped almost exclusively by his German background and characterized by a foundational methodological tension. Here, I instead show that Boas’ most creative early work benefitted from close interaction with debates in psychology and that his methodological reflections were part of the much wider series of discussions in North America engendered by the importation of the German Geistes-/Naturwissenschaft debate. Central to such debates, as well as to anthropological ones in these years, were the contested definitions of the human mind and of knowledge. Recovering this shared focus reveals the importance of such questions to Boas’ early writings, allowing us to better reconstruct his views on anthropology and to appreciate how he approached the question of how to justify the bounding of human knowledge into specific disciplines.

The Premonitions Bureau: A True Account of Death Foretold

AHP readers may be interested in the new book The Premonitions Bureau: A True Account of Death Foretold by Sam Knight. The book is described as follows:

On the morning of October 21, 1966, Kathleen Middleton, a music teacher in suburban London, awoke choking and gasping, convinced disaster was about to strike. An hour later, a mountain of rubble containing waste from a coal mine collapsed above the village of Aberfan, swamping buildings and killing 144 people, many of them children. Among the doctors and emergency workers who arrived on the scene was John Barker, a psychiatrist from Shelton Hospital, in Shrewsbury. At Aberfan, Barker became convinced there had been supernatural warning signs of the disaster, and decided to establish a “premonitions bureau,” in conjunction with the Evening Standard newspaper, to collect dreams and forebodings from the public, in the hope of preventing future calamities.

Middleton was one of hundreds of seemingly normal people, who would contribute their visions to Barker’s research in the years to come, some of them unnervingly accurate. As Barker’s work plunged him deeper into the occult, his reputation suffered. But in the face of professional humiliation, Barker only became more determined, ultimately realizing with terrible certainty that catastrophe had been prophesied in his own life.

In Sam Knight’s crystalline telling, this astonishing true story comes to encompass the secrets of the world. We all know premonitions are impossible—and yet they come true all the time. Our lives are full of collisions and coincidence: the question is how we perceive these implausible events and therefore make meaning in our lives. The Premonitions Bureau is an enthralling account of madness and wonder, of science and the supernatural. With an unforgettable ending, it is a mysterious journey into the most unsettling reaches of the human mind.