New SHM: Mental Hygiene Guidance Centres, Political Recognition for Dyslexia, and Mental Health in Socialist Yugoslavia

The recently published November 2020 issue of Society History of Medicine includes three articles that may interest AHP readers. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

Helping Troubled Children and Cultivating the Race: The Mental Hygienic Guidance Centres of the Public Health Association of Swedish Finland, 1930s–1950s,” Sophy Bergenheim. Abstract:

This article looks at the mental hygienic guidance centres of the Public Health Association of Swedish Finland (Samfundet Folkhälsan, or Folkhälsan for short). For Folkhälsan, mental hygiene was a part of a broader context, in which public health and racial hygiene were fundamentally motivated by Finland-Swedish minority nationalism. Folkhälsan’s mental hygienic ideas are illuminated through the interrelated frames of degeneration and social engineering. The former portrayed mental and social deviance as a social, biological and moral threat to the collective, whereas the latter saw social behaviour, including maladjustment, as a phenomenon that could be influenced. For Folkhälsan’s mental hygienists, it was central to determine type and degree of abnormality; whether the clients were socially maladjusted ‘problem children’ or ‘feeble-minded children’. In both cases, the problem was seen to be caused by (lower-class) parents: through incompetent parenting and/or by passing on poor mental qualities to their offspring.

Literacy, Advocacy and Agency: The Campaign for Political Recognition of Dyslexia in Britain (1962–1997),” Philip Kirby. Abstract:

This article charts the campaign for political recognition of dyslexia in Britain, focusing on the period from 1962 when concerted interest in the topic began. Through the Word Blind Centre for Dyslexic Children (1963–72), and the organisations that followed, it shows how dyslexia gradually came to be institutionalised, often in the face of government intransigence. The article shows how this process is best conceived as a complex interplay of groups, including advocates, researchers, civil servants and politicians of varying political stripes. Necessarily, the campaign was mediated through broader political, economic and social changes, including the increasing requirement for literacy in the productive worker, but it is not reducible to these factors. In this way, the article reflects on the conceptualisation of power and agency in accounts of the history of dyslexia to date and its broader relevance to the history of learning difficulties and disabilities.

The Curious Case of Aleksandar Milivojevi?: The Donja Toponica Hospital and Mental Health in Socialist Yugoslavia,” Ivan Simic. Abstract:

This article uncovers the appalling situation in Yugoslav mental hospitals in the early period of Yugoslav socialism, demonstrating that Yugoslav psychiatry suffered from rife structural problems and malpractices. By examining the case of the Toponica hospital, the article shows that patients were regularly abused and beaten while living in very harsh conditions. Patients were overmedicated, therapies administered by illiterate staff, medical histories poorly recorded and hospitals overcrowded and understaffed, while often no attempts were made for the patients’ healing and rehabilitation. On the other hand, Yugoslav psychiatrists closely followed the trends in global psychiatry, testing new therapies, while the movement for mental hygiene gained significant traction. Nevertheless, high hopes for improving the patients’ well-being were far from practice. Once the scandal at the Toponica hospital erupted in 1955, it caused changes in the management and brought in more resources, but the structural problems of Yugoslav psychiatry remained.

Francis Galton’s regression towards mediocrity and the stability of types

AHP readers will be interested in a new article in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A: “Francis Galton’s regression towards mediocrity and the stability of types,”by Adam Krashniak and Ehud Lamm. Abstract:

A prevalent narrative locates the discovery of the statistical phenomenon of regression to the mean in the work of Francis Galton. It is claimed that after 1885, Galton came to explain the fact that offspring deviated less from the mean value of the population than their parents did as a population-level statistical phenomenon and not as the result of the processes of inheritance. Arguing against this claim, we show that Galton did not explain regression towards mediocrity statistically, and did not give up on his ideas regarding an inheritance process that caused offspring to revert to the mean. While the common narrative focuses almost exclusively on Galton’s statistics, our arguments emphasize the anthropological and biological questions that Galton addressed. Galton used regression towards mediocrity to support the claim that some biological types were more stable than others and hence were resistant to evolutionary change. This view had implications concerning both natural selection and eugenics. The statistical explanation attributed to Galton appeared later, during the biometrician-mutationist debate in the early 1900s. It was in the context of this debate and specifically by the biometricians, that the development of the statistical explanation was originally attributed to Galton.

The paper technology of confinement: evolving criteria in admission forms (1850–73)

AHP readers will be interested in a piece forthcoming in History of Psychiatry – and now available online – by Filippo M Sposini, “The paper technology of confinement: evolving criteria in admission forms (1850–73).” Abstract:

This paper investigates the role of admission forms in the regulation of asylum confinement in the second half of the nineteenth century. Taking the Toronto Lunatic Asylum as a case study it traces the evolution of the forms’ content and structure during the first decades of this institution. Admission forms provide important material for understanding the medico-legal assessment of lunacy in a certain jurisdiction. First, they show how the description of insanity depended on a plurality of actors. Second, doctors were not necessarily required to indicate symptoms of derangement. Third, patients’ relatives played a fundamental role in providing clinical information. From an historiographical perspective, this paper invites scholars to consider the function of standardized documents in shaping the written identity of patients.

CHSTM Working Group – New Histories of Psychology: Politics, Publics, and Power

As of 2021 the History of Psychology Virtual Workshop that has run since August 2020 is a “working group” affiliated with the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Philadelphia. CHSTM hosts a wide range of groups and resources including the newly rebranded group “New Histories of Psychology: Politics, Publics, and Power.” The Consortium will host all subsequent meetings, which will take place at 1pm Eastern on the 4th Monday of the month.

Attendance requires creating a free CHSTM account and then signing up for the working group. Future group announcements will go through that list.

The next two meetings will focus on the history of happiness studies and behavioral economics, respectively. Descriptions and readings are below as well as at the new working group CHSTM site.

(Un)happy Times

We live in a world awash in emotion. Its experience, measurement, manipulation, and augmentation shape daily life. From feminist engagements with “public feelings” to the emergence of positive psychology as a third force to hot cognition in decision making, the affective realm has recently taken a more prominent place across numerous academic disciplines. How should we make historical sense of this “affective revolution”? Is the pursuit of happiness a political ideal or an existential curse? In this session, we focus on the long past and short history of (un)happiness.

Date: January 27th at 1pm Eastern


Sara Ahmed, “Killing Joy: Feminism and the History of Happiness,” Signs 35, no. 3 (2010): 571-594.

Content Warning: suicide
Jennifer Senior, “Happiness Won’t Save You,” New York Times, November 24, 2020

What is “Behavioral” in Behavioral Economics?

Behavioral economics has a particular hold on the twenty-first century (neo)liberal imagination. Following the 2008 financial crisis, the field of mathematical psychology went from the academic margins to the political mainstream as a scientifically respectable way of talking about human irrationality. In this session, we will scrutinize this ascendency, focusing on the popular dichotomy between thinking fast and slow, short- and long-term. Why did heuristics switch from making us smart in the 1950s to error-prone in the 1970s? Is the distinction between behavioral and neuro-economics a semantic or ontology one? Is brainhood a necessary component of dual process theories? Does the popularity of ‘nudges’ among policy-makers represent a behaviorist “counter-revolution” against cognitivism (and democracy)? How is behavioral economics’ critique of human judgment related to wider critiques and venerations of expertise?

Date: February 24th at 1pm Eastern


Natasha Dow Schüll and Caitlin Zaloom. “The shortsighted brain: Neuroeconomics and the governance of choice in time.” Social Studies of Science 41, no. 4 (2011): 515-538.

John McMahon, “Training for Neoliberalism” Boston Review (2015)

The past of predicting the future: A review of the multidisciplinary history of affective forecasting

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece now available online from History of the Human Sciences, “The past of predicting the future: A review of the multidisciplinary history of affective forecasting,” by Maya A. Pilin. Abstract:

Affective forecasting refers to the ability to predict future emotions, a skill that is essential to making decisions on a daily basis. Studies of the concept have determined that individuals are often inaccurate in making such affective forecasts. However, the mechanisms of these errors are not yet clear. In order to better understand why affective forecasting errors occur, this article seeks to trace the theoretical roots of this theory with a focus on its multidisciplinary history. The roots of affective forecasting lie mainly in economics, with early claims positing that utility (i.e. satisfaction) played a role in decision-making. Furthermore, the philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s descriptions of utilitarianism played a major role in our understanding of whether to define utility as a hedonic quality. The birth of behavioural economics resulted in a paradigm shift, introducing the concept of cognitive biases as influences on the accuracy of predicted utility. Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson, the earliest researchers of affective forecasting errors, have proceeded with the concept of the accuracy of predicted affective utility to conduct experiments that seek to determine why our predictions of future affect are inaccurate and how such errors play a role in our decision-making.

Karl Leonhard (1904-88) and his academic influence through the ‘Erlangen School’

AHP readers may be interested in a forthcoming piece in History of Psychiatry that is now available online: “Karl Leonhard (1904-88) and his academic influence through the ‘Erlangen School’” by Birgit Braun. Abstract:

The Erlangen University Psychiatric and Mental Clinic was an annexe to the Erlangen Mental Asylum, so when Leonhard worked there he became acquainted with acute and chronic stages of schizophrenia. This can be viewed as a decisive impulse for his later differentiated classification of types of schizophrenia. The suspicion that Leonhard suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder cannot be supported. His reticence concerning social-psychiatric aspects is analyzed in the context of his early professional contact with the ‘Erlangen system’ of open care and its Nazi perversion. Leonhard’s role in national-socialism is still uncertain. His unsuccessful attempts to retain the Erlangen Chair of Psychiatry and Mental Illness in 1951 can be viewed as his first difficulty in the tensions between West Germany and East Germany.

Winter issue of Revista de Historia de la Psicología

The Winter issue of Revista de Historia de la Psicología is now online. Full titles, authors, and English abstracts follow below:

“Not the Absolute, but the Ultimate: William James before the Mystery of God. [No el absoluto, sino el último: William James frente al misterio de Dios],” José María Gondra (Article written in English). Abstract:

After a long inquiry into the fields of psychology, psychopathology, religious experience, mysticism and philosophy, William James arrived at a pantheistic worldview in which God was no longer the Absolute knower of the idealistic philosophy, but an immanent closely linked to human beings and the end of the process of world unification. This article follows William James’s evolution from his beginnings as a psychologist and founder of American psychology to his final solution to the philosophical problem of the One and the Many through a pluralistic pantheism. I examine his notions of ‘stream of consciousness’, feelings of relation and emotions, as well as the super-human consciousness he found in religious mystical states; I then review his doctrine of indeterminism and his overcoming of the logic of identity by a vision of the world as a federal Republic in which Deity is construed as finite, much greater than human beings but nonetheless in need of their cooperation. In the conclusions, I analyze this view of the Divinity in its intellectual and social context as well as the result of William James’s personal experience as a psychologist in search of a vision of the world in which God had a more intimate relationship with humans and a leading role in promoting universal good.

“Psicología Profunda y Género Oracular: una Aproximación al I Ching en el Centro Eranos. [Deep Psychology and Oracular Genre: An Approach to the I Ching at the Eranos Center],” Cruz Mañas Peñalver y José Carlos Loredo  (Article written in Spanish). Abstract:

This paper aims to be a microhistorical approach to a seemingly secondary and not well-known aspect of a such singular cultural phenomenon as Eranos, the East-West research center founded in 1933 in Ascona by Olga Froebe-Kapteyn and Carl Gustav Jung. While the contributions of outstanding XX Century specialists – mostly mythologists, psychologists and historians of religions – are known, little is heard about a subtle thread running through the life of Eranos: the practice of the I Ching, the ancient Chinese oracle, as a source of inspiration and guidance, sometimes in a covert and private way, at other times openly and publicly. Using primary sources, we will examine the use of the oracle at Eranos from the 1930s to the present.

“Modelos Gráficos y Redes en Psicología. [Graph Models and Networks in Psychology],” Ana María Ruiz-Ruano García y Jorge López Puga (Article written in Spanish). Abstract:

Network analysis is not a new methodology in psychology. However, network analysis-based methodologies are more and more common nowadays. Here we provide a historical review of two areas in which network analysis has been critical for psychology: causal cognition and psychopathology. We briefly review key points in the history of philosophy contributing to progresses in the scientific research about causal cognition. We show how those progresses evolved to considering Bayes networks as normative models to understand causal cognition. We also provide some notes about how network analysis allows to understand mental disorders. Finally, some future paths development regarding the usage of graphs models are suggested as well as some problems to avoid in the close future into this line of research.

“Psicología en Tiempos de Posguerra: la Revista de Filosofía del Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (1942-1969). [Post-War Psychology: the Revista de Filosofía of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (1942-1969)],” Javier Bandrés (Article written in Spanish). Abstract:

The Revista de Filosofía of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) was founded in 1942 within the Luis Vives Institute of Philosophy. Its promoters were, among others, Manuel Barbado, Juan Zaragüeta, Manuel Mindán and Antonio Álvarez de Linera. From the beginning, the journal paid special attention to Psychology, both scientific and philosophical. News about scientific congresses and meetings of Psychology, as well as bibliographic bulletins on the subject, were regularly published. Articles also appeared on topics such as the History of Psychology, Differential Psychology, Philosophical Psychology, Psychoanalysis, Social Psychology or Psychology of religion, among others. Revista de Filosofía is an example of how, apart from the official speeches of the time, some people in charge of the new scientific organizations tried to develop quality intellectual projects.

“The History of Mental Health in Senegal: Healthcare and Educational infrastructures. [Historia de la Salud Mental en Senegal: Infrastructuras sanitarias y educativas],” Aida Sylla, Ndèye-Dialé Ndiaye-Ndongo, Momar Camara, Sokhna Seck & Papa Lamine Faye (Article written in English). Abstract:

In this article, the authors review the different stages of the establishment of mental health in Senegal. They take over the installation of care structures and the various training courses that take place in the mental field. This process began with colonization and continued after independence. The article also insists on a plea for more importance to be given to mental health in Senegal.

New Video Series: The History of Psychology Show

Christopher Green, who previously brought us the podcast series This Week in the History of Psychology, has announced a new video podcast series: The History of Psychology Show. In announcing the show, Green notes,

I will interview prominent working historians of psychology, delving into their research, their backstories, and their views on the current state of the field. It will be on YouTube in full Zoom-y video! You can find my brief video introduction to the series here: I hope to have the first full episode online before the end of the year: an interview with John Jackson of Michigan State University, focusing on his recent Review of General Psychology article with Andrew Winston, “The Mythical Taboo on Race and Intelligence.” 

You can subscribe to the series on YouTube here.

Recently in Journal of the History of the Neurosciences: Charcot, Gall, and More

A number of recent articles in Journal of the History of the Neurosciences may be of interest to AHP readers. Full details follow below.

The concepts of heredity and degeneration in the work of Jean-Martin Charcot,” Olivier Walusinski. Abstract:

Transcripts of the Tuesday Lessons at La Salpêtrière Hospital show that Jean-Martin Charcot often asked his patients about their family history. The information gathered on patients’ heredity played also a significant role in the diagnostic reasoning he instructed his students in. Again and again, he included in his teachings the concept of degeneration to suggest an etiology for observed pathologies. This article analyzes the origin of Charcot’s knowledge, imparted in the Tuesday Lessons, by examining the theories of heredity and degeneration successively developed by Prosper Lucas (1808–1885) in 1847, Bénédict-Auguste Morel (1809–1873) in 1857, and Jacques-Joseph Moreau de Tours (1804–1884) in 1859. I will review examples taken from the Tuesday Lessons to illustrate how Charcot assimilated the ideas of these alienists. Two of his students, Charles Féré (1852–1907) and Georges Gilles de la Tourette (1857–1904), known for championing their master’s work, went on to publish their own books that developed theories of heredity and degeneration. I will conclude my review, which aims to examine a little known facet of Charcot’s work, with a few examples from these authors’ writings.

Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes on phrenology: Debunking a fad.” Stanley Finger. Abstract:

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809–1894) was a Boston physician, a professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School, and a writer of prose and poetry for general audiences. He was also one of the most famous American wits of the nineteenth century and a celebrity not bashful about exposing costly, absurd, and potentially harmful medical fads. One of his targets was phrenology, and the current article examines how he learned about phrenology during the 1830s as a medical student in Boston and Paris, and his head-reading with Lorenzo Fowler in 1858. It then turns to what he told readers of the Atlantic Monthly (in 1859) and Harvard medical students (in 1861) about phrenology being a pseudoscience and how phrenologists were duping clients. By looking at what Holmes was stating about cranioscopy and practitioners of phrenology in both humorous and more serious ways, historians can more fully appreciate the “bumpy” trajectory of one of the most significant medical and scientific fads of the nineteenth century.

Jean-Martin Charcot’s medical instruments: Electrotherapeutic devices in La Leçon Clinique à la Salpêtrière,” Francesco Brigo, Albert Balasse, Raffaele Nardone & Olivier Walusinski. Abstract:

In the famous painting La Leçon Clinique à la Salpêtrière (A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière) by André Brouillet (1857–1914), the neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (1825–1893) is shown delivering a clinical lecture in front of a large audience. A hysterical patient, Marie Wittman (known as “Blanche”; 1859–1912) is leaning against Charcot’s pupil, Joseph Babinski (1857–1932). Lying on the table close to Charcot are some medical instruments, traditionally identified as a Duchenne electrotherapy apparatus and a reflex hammer. A closer look at these objects reveals that they should be identified instead as a Du Bois-Reymond apparatus with a Grenet cell (bichromate cell) battery and its electrodes. These objects reflect the widespread practice of electrotherapeutic faradization at the Salpêtrière. Furthermore, they allow us to understand the moment depicted in the painting: contrary to what is sometimes claimed, Blanche has not been represented during a hysterical attack, but during a moment of hypnotically induced lethargy.

“My God, here is the skull of a murderer!” Physical appearance and violent crime,” Jaco Berveling. Abstract:

Over the centuries, people have tried to determine character traits from a person’s appearance, beginning with the physiognomic efforts of the Greek philosophers Socrates (ca. 470–399 bce) and Aristotle (384–322 bce) and still continuing today. In this quest, the discovery of criminal tendencies from someone’s face always received special attention. This was also an important issue for physician Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828). Gall maintained that a criminal’s skull had a different shape than that of a law-abiding person. Phrenologists, as well as criminologists, including Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909), further propagated Gall’s ideas and investigated countless heads of violent and petty criminals. This line of investigation led to much discussion and criticism. Were Gall, the phrenologists who followed him, and Lombroso sufficiently objective? Were these men really onto something, or were they led by prejudices? After Lombroso’s time, physiognomy and cranioscopy were discredited. However, in the last decades, some researchers are again trying to find out whether people are indeed able to distinguish violent criminals from nonviolent criminals on the basis of their faces.

Franz Joseph Gall on the “deaf and dumb” and the complexities of mind,” Paul Eling & Stanley Finger. Abstract:

Franz Joseph Gall used a broad variety of phenomena in support of his organology. Well known are his observations on anatomical features of the brain, species-specific behavioral patterns, the observation that some individuals may excel in one faculty while being mediocre in others, changes in the organs with development and aging, and how the organs associated with the faculties might be affected by diseases and acute brain lesions. We here present a widely overlooked source: his observations on individuals then classified as “deaf and dumb.” We discuss how these observations were presented by Gall in support of his organology and in his disputes with empiricists and sensationalists about the nature of mind.