The History of “Soldier’s Heart” in JHMAS

The April 2011 issue of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences has just been released online. Included in this issue is an article that may be of interest to AHP’s readers. In “The Chief Seat of Mischief: Soldier’s Heart in the First World War” Sean Dyde explores the fate of “soldier’s heart” a medical-psychological diagnosis assigned from the American Civil War through to the period just following the First World War. Appearing as a variety of heart-related symptoms, soldier’s heart was held by physicians in the twentieth century to be psychosomatic until experimental results showed otherwise. Title, author, and abstract follow below.

“The Chief Seat of Mischief: Soldier’s Heart in the First World War,” by Sean Dyde. The abstract reads,

Soldier’s heart was a medico-psychiatric condition that was first documented during the American Civil War. This condition affected British and American soldiers during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries; doctors recorded patients experiencing palpitations, breathlessness, headaches, and praecordial pain among other symptoms. While the number of cases of this disorder reached its peak in the First World War, it disappeared shortly afterwards. Based on an analysis of experimental results published in generalist and specialized medical journals as well as the correspondence between physicians and researchers that these journals maintained, this study challenges the view that soldier’s heart disappeared because doctors realized that the disorder was, in fact, psychosomatic. Instead, this article shows that this notion was an unintentional by-product of the research conducted into the condition, the results of which opposed the somaticist philosophy that many of the researchers had tried to uphold.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.