New in Isis: Turing’s “Paper Machine” in Clinical Research

The September issue of Isis includes a piece that may interest AHP readers: “A Paper Machine of Clinical Research in the Early Twentieth Century,” by Volker Hess. Abstract:

This article introduces Turing’s idea of a “paper machine” to identify and understand one important mode of clinical research in the modern hospital, how that research worked, and how office technology and industrialized labor shaped and helped drive it. The unusually rich archives of Berlin psychiatry allow detailed reconstruction of the making of the new diagnostic category “hyperkinetic syndrome” in the 1920s. From the generating of data to the processing of information to the visualizing of the nature and course of the new syndrome in the lives of more than sixty patients, this case study shows how clinical research could be based on the apparatus of the clerks’ room (folders, registers, inventories, and the dispatch of documents), office technologies (new filing systems, preprinted forms, and duplicating machines), and the principles and paper practices of the division and rationalization of labor (charts organizing worktime in complex organizations). The result is an important example of clinical research embedded in the broader history of office technology, industrial labor, and the modern hospital.

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.