Tag Archives: aesthetics

What Nostalgia was: War, Empire, and the Time of a Deadly Emotion

Thomas Dodman’s What Nostalgia was: War, Empire, and the Time of a Deadly Emotion may be of interest to AHP readers. The book is described as follows:

Nostalgia today is seen as essentially benign, a wistful longing for the past. This wasn’t always the case, however: from the late seventeenth century through the end of the nineteenth, nostalgia denoted a form of homesickness so extreme that it could sometimes be deadly.

What Nostalgia Was unearths that history. Thomas Dodman begins his story in Basel, where a nineteen-year-old medical student invented the new diagnosis, modeled on prevailing notions of melancholy. From there, Dodman traces its spread through the European republic of letters and into Napoleon’s armies, as French soldiers far from home were diagnosed and treated for the disease. Nostalgia then gradually transformed from a medical term to a more expansive cultural concept, one that encompassed Romantic notions of the aesthetic pleasure of suffering. But the decisive shift toward its contemporary meaning occurred in the colonies, where Frenchmen worried about racial and cultural mixing came to view moderate homesickness as salutary. An afterword reflects on how the history of nostalgia can help us understand the transformations of the modern world, rounding out a surprising, fascinating tour through the history of a durable idea.

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Aesthetics, Industry, and Science: Hermann Von Helmholtz and the Berlin Physical Society

AHP readers may be interested in M. Norton Wise’s recent book,  Aesthetics, Industry, and Science: Hermann Von Helmholtz and the Berlin Physical Society. The book is described as follows:

On January 5, 1845, the Prussian Cultural Minister received a request by a group of six young men to form a new Physical Society in Berlin. In fields from thermodynamics, mechanics, and electromagnetism to animal electricity, ophthalmology, and psychophysics, members of this small but growing group—which soon included Emil Du Bois-Reymond, Ernst Brücke, Werner Siemens, and Hermann von Helmholtz—established leading positions in what only thirty years later had become a new landscape of natural science. How was this possible? How could a bunch of twenty-somethings succeed in seizing the future?

In Aesthetics, Industry, and Science M. Norton Wise answers these questions not simply from a technical perspective of theories and practices but with a broader cultural view of what was happening in Berlin at the time. He emphasizes in particular how rapid industrial development, military modernization, and the neoclassical aesthetics of contemporary art informed the ways in which these young men thought. Wise argues that aesthetic sensibility and material aspiration in this period were intimately linked, and he uses these two themes for a final reappraisal of Helmholtz’s early work. Anyone interested in modern German cultural history, or the history of nineteenth-century German science, will be drawn to this landmark book.

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The Outward Mind: Materialist Aesthetics in Victorian Science and Literature

Benjamin Morgan’s The Outward Mind: Materialist Aesthetics in Victorian Science and Literature explores efforts to make aesthetics scientific, including within experimental psychology. The book is described as follows:

Though underexplored in contemporary scholarship, the Victorian attempts to turn aesthetics into a science remain one of the most fascinating aspects of that era. In The Outward Mind, Benjamin Morgan approaches this period of innovation as an important origin point for current attempts to understand art or beauty using the tools of the sciences. Moving chronologically from natural theology in the early nineteenth century to laboratory psychology in the early twentieth, Morgan draws on little-known archives of Victorian intellectuals such as William Morris, Walter Pater, John Ruskin, and others to argue that scientific studies of mind and emotion transformed the way writers and artists understood the experience of beauty and effectively redescribed aesthetic judgment as a biological adaptation. Looking beyond the Victorian period to humanistic critical theory today, he also shows how the historical relationship between science and aesthetics could be a vital resource for rethinking key concepts in contemporary literary and cultural criticism, such as materialism, empathy, practice, and form. At a moment when the tumultuous relationship between the sciences and the humanities is the subject of ongoing debate, Morgan argues for the importance of understanding the arts and sciences as incontrovertibly intertwined.


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New Issue of JHBS

A new issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences just been released online. Included in the October issue of the journal is an article detailing how post-World War II social scientists, associated with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), “consciously sought to create a scientific way of knowing that would bring unity to diversity” (p. 309) and thus reinforce democratic governance. Also featured is an article that recounts the the late-nineteenth century aesthetic research undertaken by Vernon Lee, a pseudonym adopted by British writer Violet Paget (pictured to the right). Finally, this issue of JHBS includes an account of the work of the the Social Science Research Council’s Advisory Committee on Personality and Culture (1930-1934), an interdisciplinary committee that included among its members a number of notable social scientists and clinicians, including Adolf Meyer, Edward Sapir, and Harry Stack Sullivan, among others.

Eight all-new book reviews can also be found in this issue of JHBS, including a review of Alexandra Rutherford’s Beyond the Box: B. F. Skinner’s Technology of Behavior from Laboratory to Life, 1950s-1970s, by Ludy T. Benjamin Jr. Beyond the Box has previously been discussed on AHP here and here Continue reading New Issue of JHBS

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