Workshop: Writing the history of psychiatry after 1945

The history of psychiatry in the twentieth century is characterised by an
historiographic void compared with the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
This post-1945 historiographic void has been cited frequently in recent
literature [1] and comprises the starting point for this workshop. It aims
to present an overview of the current state of research and move beyond the
narrow perspectives that characterises the history of psychiatry in terms of
whiggish or cyclic (biological against social psychiatry) progression [2].
This first workshop will focus on two questions: the chronologies and
paradigms of current research.

The use and abuse of psychiatry in the context of Nazi policies is an
exception; but the focus on National Socialism seems to have drawn attention
away from the rest of the century and isolated these ‘dark years’. Indeed,
with the exception of this period, the historical narrative of psychiatry in
the twentieth century is still largely unstructured, or still too
characterised by national epistemologies.

To date the history of twentieth century psychiatry is often framed in terms
of the Second World War. Is the political caesura of 1945 relevant? The
introduction of the first shock therapies in the 1930s or the
psychopharmaceutical revolution of the 1950s could be other historical
turning points. If one considers the history of psychiatry in larger
medical, scientific and social frameworks, other chronologies become

Contrary to Michel Foucault’s “Great Confinement” or Dirk Blasius’s
“differentiation of bourgeois society,” the history of psychiatry of the
twentieth century — and especially of the post-war period — seems to lack
a master narrative that could help structure discussions in the social
sciences and contemporary history, as well as contextualise psychiatric
discourse and practice. To what extent are the conferences by Michel
Foucault in the Collège de France or the work of Gladys Swain and Marcel
Gauchet, elaborated in the 1970s and 1980s, analytic grids for the twentieth
century? Can Robert Castel’s La société psychiatrique avancée or the third
‘biological’ revolution in psychiatry (notably emphasised by Edward Shorter)
serve as meta-accounts for a history of psychiatry after 1945? Or does
diagnostic and therapeutic differentiation makes the search for a larger
theoretical framework illusive? Papers that combine these larger questions
with specific case studies are particularly welcome.

At the same time, the workshop may be the starting point for a network of
researchers and universities working on the history of psychiatry after
1945. The initiative is being launched by the following persons:

Jean-Christophe Coffin (Université Paris 5- CNRS, Centre A.
Koyré), Emmanuel Delille (EHESS, Centre A. Koyré)
Volker Hess, Eric Engstrom (Institut für Geschichte der Medizin – Charité)
Sloan Mahone, Mathew Savelli (Wellcome Institute for the History of
Medicine – Oxford)
Benoît Majerus (Université libre de Bruxelles)
Jakob Tanner, Marietta Meier (Universität Zürich)

The workshop is organised by the Institut für Geschichte der Medizin –
Charité Berlin and the Université libre de Bruxelles. It will be held in
Brussels on 30 and 31 May 2008. The deadline for (1 page) proposals is 15
November 2007 and they should be sent to the following address: To allow for precirculation, manuscripts should be
submitted to the organisers by 15 April 2008.

[1] Two among many examples include: Catherine Fussinger, Urs Germann,
Martin Lengwiler, Marietta Meier: Ausdifferenzierung der Psychiatrie in der
Schweiz. Stand und Perspektiven der psychiatriehistorischen Forschung.
traverse, 2003, p. 16, Hess, Volker : Psychochemicals crossing the wall. Die
Einführung der Psychopharmaka in der DDR aus der Perspektive der neueren
Arzneimittelgeschichte. Medizinhistorisches Journal, 42 (2007), p. 78;
Gijswijt-Hofstra, Marijke et al.: Cultures of Psychiatry and Mental Health
Care in the Twentieth Century: Comparisons and Approaches. Amsterdam 2005.

[2] Sadowsky, Jonathan: Beyond the metaphor of the Pendulum.
Electroconvulsive therapy, psychoanalysis and the styles of American
psychiatry. Journal of Medicine and Allied Sciences 61 (2006), 1-25.

[Forwarded from a message posted to HOP-IN by Eric Engstrom. -cdg-]

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.