New in Social History of Medicine

There are a number of articles in the just released May issue of Social History of Medicine that may be of interest to AHP’s readers. In a piece on music and hypnosis, James Kennaway explores the long and complicated relationship between music and selfhood from the time of Mesmeric uses of the glass harmonica (left) to more recent concerns about brainwashing. Additionally, two articles in the issue explore aspects of asylum history. The first discusses the role of the Irish Famine of the 1840s in Irish asylums, while the second explores efforts to control suicide in English public asylums in the latter half of the nineteenth century. A further piece delves into views on alcoholism in mid-to-late twentieth century Yugoslavia. Full titles, authors, and abstract follow below.

“Musical Hypnosis: Sound and Selfhood from Mesmerism to Brainwashing,” by James Kennaway. The abstract reads,

Music has long been associated with trance states, but very little has been written about the modern western discussion of music as a form of hypnosis or ‘brainwashing’. However, from Mesmer’s use of the glass armonica to the supposed dangers of subliminal messages in heavy metal, the idea that music can overwhelm listeners’ self-control has been a recurrent theme. In particular, the concepts of automatic response and conditioned reflex have been the basis for a model of physiological psychology in which the self has been depicted as vulnerable to external stimuli such as music. This article will examine the discourse of hypnotic music from animal magnetism and the experimental hypnosis of the nineteenth century to the brainwashing panics since the Cold War, looking at the relationship between concerns about hypnotic music and the politics of the self and sexuality.

“Revisiting a ‘Demographic Freak’: Irish Asylums and Hidden Hunger,” by Melinda Grimsley-Smith.The abstract reads,

The Irish Famine of the 1840s has been most commonly understood as a social and political event, as the literature has been oriented toward demographic transformation and the drive toward democratisation in the post-Famine period. In this article, I use anomalies in post-Famine admissions to lunatic asylums and contemporary epidemiological research to argue that our understanding of the demographic transformation should incorporate a reckoning of the Famine as a biological event. Sudden and severe nutritional deprivation has measurable significant and long-lasting biological and psychological consequences that in turn have the capacity to alter the trajectory of a society’s development. This research has broader implications, as it suggests that effects of chronic food scarcity common to struggling regional and national economies should be taken into account when historians tell the tale of how societies develop.

“Alienists, Attendants and the Containment of Suicide in Public Lunatic Asylums, 1845–1890,” by Sarah York. The abstract reads,

Suicidal lunatics were only one patient group among several that alienists and asylum attendants had to care for, but the danger and risk associated with suicide made them one of the more difficult to manage. The task of suicide prevention was a priority for asylum staff as they endeavoured to save life and avoid criticism and investigation from the asylums’ regulating body. This article investigates the contribution alienists and attendants made to the management and prevention of suicide in English public lunatic asylums during the second half of the nineteenth century. It examines the respective contribution alienists and attendants made to the handling of suicidal patients, with varying levels of involvement. In doing so, it argues that the practical application of suicide prevention fell to asylum attendants, as their work determined how, and with what success, alienists’ suicide policy was implemented.

“Diseased, Depraved or just Drunk? The Psychiatric Panic over Alcoholism in Communist Yugoslavia,” by Mat Savelli. The abstract reads,

In the era of Communist rule in Yugoslavia (1945–91), few problems attracted as much psychiatric attention as alcoholism. Conducting widespread epidemiological research, practitioners discovered an alarming trend as rates of the disease were seemingly rising in every territory and segment of the population. Such an upswing of problem drinking seemed to threaten the ideological, economical, and social well-being of the state and its citizens. This widespread panic spurred psychiatric investigations into the aetiology of alcoholism. Much of this work focused on the role of the family, the workplace, class and societal changes as the genesis of problem drinking. Ultimately, these researchers concluded that alcoholism was not merely an affliction of the individual but rather a social disease with cause and consequence extending far beyond the problem drinker.

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.