‘Nerves’ enjoyed a central place in German debates about war at the beginning of the 20th Century. Politicians, scientists, the public, and the military discussed the extent to which a future war would strain the nerves of German society. Concepts of ´strength of nerves´ as well as of ´weakness of nerves´ were increasingly used as combat terms during the First World War. The massive scale of experiences of psychological injuries and suffering only added to this phenomenon. The social and political administration of the medical treatment of psychological war disabilities presided over post-war discourses of managing the consequences of war. Simultaneously, a new spiritual mobilization for war followed in the Weimar Republic, which, after 1933, ‘synchronized’ almost all aspects of social life in the Third Reich.
Current scholarship has devoted substantial historical research to the treatment and accommodation of psychological war-disabled veterans. This conference focuses on contemporary discourses on nerves in politics, society, science, and the military and aspires to elaborate the interaction as well as their practical consequences of these discourses for the period of 1900 and 1933. At this conference nerves are understood as a code and a construct that are central in negotiating identity. Both, contemporary discourses on nerves as well as individual and collective experiences of psychological mobilization and suffering will be presented and analyzed. The focus of the conference papers is on Germany, but in a wider European context.
Venue: Freie Universität Berlin, Fabeckstraße 23-25, 14195 Berlin, Room: 2.2059
This article presents a historical analysis of the origins, rise, and demise of theories of stratification (Schichtentheorien). Following their roots in the ancient metaphysical idea of the “great chain of being,” Aristotle’s scala naturae, the medieval “Jacob’s ladder,” and Leibniz’s concept of the lex continua, I argue that theories of stratification represent the modern heir to the ancient cosmological idea of a harmonious, hierarchical, and unified universe. Theories of stratification reached their heyday during the interwar period within German academia, proliferating over a vast number of disciplines and rising to special prominence within personality psychology, feeding the hope for a unitary image of the world and of human beings, their biological and mental development, their social organization and cultural creations. This article focuses on the role of visuality as a distinct mode of scientific knowledge within theories of stratification as well as the cultural context that provided the fertile ground for their flowering in the Weimar Republic. Finally, the rapid demise of theories of stratification during the 1950s is discussed, and some reasons for their downfall during the second half of the 20th century are explored.
The December 2016 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Articles in this issue explore psychiatric classification in the DSM, Italian colonial psychiatry, the phrenological studies of skulls, and more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Italian colonial psychiatry: Outlines of a discipline, and practical achievements in Libya and the Horn of Africa,” by Marianna Scarfone. The abstract reads,
This article describes the establishment of psychiatry in Italy’s former colonies during the period 1906–43, in terms of the clinical and institutional mechanisms, the underlying theories and the main individuals involved. ‘Colonial psychiatry’ (variously called ‘ethnographic’, ‘comparative’ or ‘racial’ psychiatry) – the object of which was both to care for mentally afflicted colonists and local people and also to understand and make sense of their pathologies – received most attention in colonial Libya, starting in the first months of the Italian occupation (1911–12) and then taking institutional form in the 1930s; in the colonies of what was known as ‘Italian East Africa’, on the other hand, less was said about psychiatric care, and practical achievements were correspondingly limited.
At first, the book was planned as a textbook for officer candidates to educate them about “the great human war machine.” Boring was a logical choice for editor because he had done psychological work in World War I and was first author of a popular, collaborative introductory text. But plans for such a textbook were scrapped in favor of a paperback geared toward the high-school reading level, thanks to Col. Joseph Greene, editor of the popular Infantry Journal, which had a sideline of book publishing. Its 25¢ Fighting Forces Penguin Specials were cheap paperbacks modeled after a British series that Penguin Books created to make money and circumvent wartime paper rationing.
Greene convinced Boring to aim the book at general readers with no college education. As the inside cover explained, “the corporal in the next bunk can get as much out of the book as his colonel can.”
The book’s appeal began with its striking cover, which promised it would tell readers “what you should know about yourself and others.” Using a technique that ad men had perfected in the 1930s, the editors aroused the soldier’s fears and then promised to show the path to safety. The book promised “practical ideas that will improve his personal adjustment, and give him a better chance to stay off the casualty lists than he already has.”
The Timecapsule section of the March issue of the APA’s Monitor on Psychology features an article on the involvement of psychologist Samuel Renshaw in the Second World War. Written by Nick Joyce(right), a graduate assistant at the Archives for the History of American Psychology (AHAP), the article details Renshaw’s efforts to improve aircraft and ship recognition among members of the American military. According to Joyce,
Renshaw taught officers to identify planes and vessels as a gestalt with a “perception of total form” in a fraction of a second. Data revealed that officers going through this training had dramatically improved recognition abilities. Upon completion of the program, officers could identify more types of planes and ships, with greater accuracy and with faster recognition times. The identification school’s graduates took the techniques to their commands and spread them. Over a million combined Navy and Army personnel learned Renshaw’s techniques.