New Isis: Psychopathy in Germany & Helmholtz’s Musicology!

The June 2015 issue of Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society, is now online. Included in the issue are two articles of special interest to AHP readers: Greg Eghigian (right) documents the history of psychopathy in Germany, while Julia Kursell, in the issue’s Focus Section on “The History of Humanities and the History of Science,” describes Hermann von Helmholtz’s work on musicology. Full details, including abstracts, follow below.

“A Drifting Concept for an Unruly Menace: A History of Psychopathy in Germany,” by Greg Eghigian. The abstract reads,

The term “psychopath” has enjoyed wide currency both in popular culture and among specialists in forensic psychiatry. Historians, however, have generally neglected the subject. This essay examines the history of psychopathy in the country that first coined the term, developed the concept, and debated its treatment: Germany. While the notion can be traced to nineteenth-century psychiatric ideas about abnormal, yet not completely pathological, character traits, the figure of the psychopath emerged out of distinctly twentieth-century preoccupations and institutions. The vagueness and plasticity of the diagnosis of psychopathy proved to be one of the keys to its success, as it was embraced and employed by clinicians, researchers, and the mass media, despite attempts by some to curb its use. Within the span of a few decades, the image of the psychopath became one of a perpetual troublemaker, an individual who could not be managed within any institutional setting. By midcentury, psychopaths were no longer seen as simply nosological curiosities; rather, they were spatial problems, individuals whose defiance of institutional routine and attempts at social redemption stood in for an attributed mental status. The history of psychopathy therefore reveals how public dangers and risks can be shaped and defined by institutional limitations.

“A Third Note: Helmholtz, Palestrina, and the Early History of Musicology,” by Julia Kursell. The abstract reads,

This contribution focuses on Hermann von Helmholtz’s work on Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Helmholtz used his scientific concept of distortion to analyze this music and, reversely, to find corroboration for the concept in his musical analyses. In this, his work interlocked with nineteenth-century aesthetic and scholarly ideals. His eagerness to use the latest products of historical scholarship in early music reveals a specific view of music history. Historical documents of music provide the opportunity for the discovery of new experimental research topics and thereby also reveal insights into hearing under different conditions. The essay argues that this work occupies a peculiar position in the history of musicology; it falls under the header of “systematic musicology,” which eventually emerged as a discipline of musicology at the end of the nineteenth century. That this discipline has a history at all is easily overlooked, as many of its contributors were scientists with an interest in music. A history of musicology therefore must consider at least the following two caveats: parts of it take place outside the institutionalized field of musicology, and any history of musicology must, in the last instance, be embedded in a history of music.

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.