New Issue: History of Medicine & Allied Sciences

The January 2012 issue of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences has just been released online. Included in this issue are a number of articles that may be of interest to historians of psychology and related fields. A special issue devoted to recent developments in the intellectual history of medicine, the issue includes articles on sexual inversion, shell shock (right), koro as a culture-bound syndrome, and the rise of hypnosis in Germany, among other topics. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Recent Developments in the Intellectual History of Medicine: A Special Issue of the Journal of the History of Medicine,” by Chiara Beccalossi and Peter Cryle. An extract from this introduction to the special issue reads,

The history of medicine is probably best thought of as a wide range of different types of inquiry, rather than a single, well-defined field. It can involve, among other things, the history of institutions, technologies, and outstanding individuals. The articles gathered in this special issue are offered specifically as contributions to the intellectual history of medicine. Each shows, in its own way, how a particular disorder became conceptualized or how a particular set of difficulties was made into a topic of debate. Inquiry of this kind is not quite the same thing as a history of ideas—if by the latter one understands only the study of ideas as they traverse medical writing—since our concern is not with major ideas in the field of medicine, as such. One of our working assumptions is that intellectual history ought to be no grander an enterprise than social history at its most focused, or cultural history at its most closely bounded. We will simply examine ways of thinking that prevailed at given points in history, indicating the material consequences to which they gave rise. By seeking to articulate thought, writing, and professional practice, we are responding to the challenge Michel Foucault laid down for historians. But the histories offered here are not “Foucauldian” in the manner of histories that focus primarily on articulating epistemic “rupture” and unprecedented conceptual “invention.” The point of our contributions is to examine the contexts in which new kinds of thinking emerged gradually, and often unevenly. We seek, as Foucault did at his best, to highlight the circumstantial nature of thought and the intellectually productive nature of circumstance.

This special issue had its beginnings in a seminar series conducted in 2009 by the Center for the History of European Discourses at the University of Queensland…

“Female Same-sex Desires: Conceptualizing a Disease in Competing Medical Fields in Nineteenth-century Europe,” by Chiara Beccalossi. The abstract reads,

This article examines the ways in which female same-sex desires were represented across a range of nineteenth-century European medical writings. While recognizing the conceptual innovations of the late-nineteenth-century psychiatric idea of “sexual inversion,” it argues that the category of “sexual invert” was positioned alongside other medical representations of same-sex desires, such as gynecological descriptions of women with hypertrophy of the clitoris and socio-cultural analyses of the tribade-prostitute. These representations complicate current historical accounts of sexual inversion, which emphasize conceptual ruptures within the history of medicine.

“Making Up Koro: Multiplicity, Psychiatry, Culture, and Penis-Shrinking Anxieties,” by Ivan Crozier. The abstract reads,

Koro is a syndrome in which the penis (or sometimes the nipples or vulva) is retracting, with deleterious effects for the sufferer. In modern psychiatry, it is considered a culture-bound syndrome (CBS). This paper considers the formation and development of psychiatric conceptions of koro and related genital retraction syndromes from the 1890s to the present. It does so by examining the different explanations of koro based on shifting conceptions of mental illness, and considers the increased recognition of the role culture has to play in psychiatric concepts. Conceptions of culture (deriving from colonial psychiatry as well as from anthropology) actively shaped the ways in which psychiatrists conceptualized koro. Cases under consideration, additional to the first Dutch descriptions of koro, include the ways in which koro was identified in white western cases, and the 1967 Singaporean koro epidemic. Following a number of psychiatrists and psychologists who have addressed the same material, attention is also paid to the recent genital-theft panics in sub-Saharan Africa, considering the implications of the differences between koro and other genital-theft panics. Finally, the paper addresses the role played by koro in the development of the concept of CBSs, which was first presented in the DSM IV in 1994. This is explored against the backdrop of emerging ideas about culture and psychiatry from the late colonial period, especially in Africa, which are central to modern ideas about transcultural psychiatry.

“Shell Shock, Trauma, and the First World War: The Making of a Diagnosis and Its Histories,” by Tracey Loughran. The abstract reads,

During the First World War, thousands of soldiers were treated for “shell shock,” a condition which encompassed a range of physical and psychological symptoms. Shell shock has most often been located within a “genealogy of trauma,” and identified as an important marker in the gradual recognition of the psychological afflictions caused by combat. In recent years, shell shock has increasingly been viewed as a powerful emblem of the suffering of war. This article, which focuses on Britain, extends scholarly analyses which question characterizations of shell shock as an early form of post-traumatic stress disorder. It also considers some of the methodological problems raised by recasting shell shock as a wartime medical construction rather than an essentially timeless manifestation of trauma. It argues that shell shock must be analyzed as a diagnosis shaped by a specific set of contemporary concerns, knowledges, and practices. Such an analysis challenges accepted understandings of what shell shock “meant” in the First World War, and also offers new perspectives on the role of shell shock in shaping the emergence of psychology and psychiatry in the early part of the twentieth century. The article also considers what relation, if any, might exist between intellectual and other histories, literary approaches, and perceptions of trauma as timeless and unchanging.

“Notes from Batavia, the Europeans’ Graveyard: The Nineteenth-Century Debate on Acclimatization in the Dutch East Indies,” by Hans Pols. The abstract reads,

Since the advent of European colonial expansion, medical theories of acclimatization have been inextricably related to convictions about the possibility and desirability of white settlement in the colonies, and political ideas of colonial governance. Before 1800, acclimatization theories emphasized the inherent flexibility of the human constitution and its ability to adapt to new environments. During the first half of the nineteenth century, European theorists came to highlight the vulnerability of white Europeans in the tropics to disease, degeneration, and death instead. They consequently argued that white settlement in the tropics was impossible and inadvisable. European physicians in the British and French colonies presented similar views. By contrast, their colleagues in the Dutch East Indies remained optimistic. They associated themselves with the colonial European settler community and shared their grievances against autocratic colonial rule. They presented medical theories which related acclimatization to prudent behavior, morality, and proper management of the environment, thereby downplaying the significance of climate and high temperatures. During the following decades, their views on acclimatization were transferred to the Netherlands, where they were deployed as an argument against the cultivation system, the then-current approach of colonial governance, which emphasized the trade of cash crops grown by the indigenous population, severely limited European settlement, and curtailed the rights of Europeans living in the Indies. Throughout the nineteenth century, the influence of climate and the possibility of acclimatization became recurring themes in debates about colonial governance in both the Dutch East Indies and the Netherlands.

“’An Object of Vulgar Curiosity’: Legitimizing Medical Hypnosis in Imperial Germany,” by Heather Wolffram. The abstract reads,

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, German medical hypnotists sought to gain a therapeutic and epistemological monopoly over hypnosis. In order to do this, however, these physicians were required to engage in a complex multi-dimensional form of boundary-work, which was intended on the one hand to convince the medical community of the legitimacy and efficacy of hypnosis and on the other to demarcate their use of suggestion from that of stage hypnotists, magnetic healers, and occultists. While the epistemological, professional, and legal boundaries that medical hypnotists erected helped both exclude lay practitioners from this field and sanitize the medical use of hypnosis, the esoteric interests, and sensational public experiments of some of these researchers, which mimicked the theatricality and occult interests of their lay competitors, blurred the distinctions that these professionals were attempting to draw between their “legitimate” medical use of hypnosis and the “illegitimate” lay and occult use of it.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.