Category Archives: General

Finding ruh in the forebrain: Mazhar Osman and the emerging Turkish psychiatric discourse

A recent piece in Medical History will interest AHP readers: “Finding ruh in the forebrain: Mazhar Osman and the emerging Turkish psychiatric discourse,” Kutlu?han Soyubol. Abstract:

This article examines the emergence of modern psychiatric discourse under the culturally Islamic yet radically secular context of the early Turkish republic (1923-1950). To do so, it focuses on the psychiatric publications of Mazhar Osman [Uzman] (1884-1951), the widely acknowledged “father” of modern Turkish psychiatry; and aims to genealogically trace his scientific project of reconceptualizing ruh, an Arabo-Turkish concept that predominantly refers to transcendental soul, rendering it physiologically within the framework of biological-descriptive psychiatry. The article consequently addresses the elusive and multilayered psychiatric language emerged in Turkey as a result of modern psychiatry’s interventions into a field that was previously defined by religion and indigenous traditions. Attempting to contextualize republican psychiatric discourse within the cultural and socio-political circumstances that has produced it, the article sheds light on how the new psychiatric knowledge propagated by Mazhar Osman was formulated in constitutive contradistinction to religious or traditional discourses, explicitly associating them with the Ottoman past and its alleged backwardness, hence reverberating with the Kemalist project of modern Turkish state building. Furthermore, by focusing on the complexities of the Turkish psychiatric language and the contestations it has generated, the article aims to reflect on the ways in which the Turkish psychiatric language was (and presumably still is) haunted by earlier forms of Islamic knowledge and traditions, despite modern psychiatry’s as well as modern secular state’s systematic and authoritative attempts to erase them for good.

Thanks to our friends at H-madness for bringing this to our awareness.

On a long, narrow road: The mental health law in Turkey

A new piece in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry will interest AHP readers: “On a long, narrow road: The mental health law in Turkey,” Fatih Artvinli, Merve Kardelen Bilir Uslu. Abstract:

This article presents the historical transformation of the mental health system and policies in the case of Turkey and discusses the challenges to their effective implementation. The mental health system in Turkey has undergone a series of reforms in three periods, namely, the institutionalization of psychiatry and hospital-based mental health services in the mid-19th century, the introduction of first-generation community-based mental healthcare services in the 1960s, and the policy of deinstitutionalization after the 1980s. In this transformation process, certain initiatives have been implemented with the participation of interested actors across periods and small but important improvements. A draft has been prepared after a series of studies were conducted with regard to mental health policies and plans. However, no results have been obtained. The necessity of the mental health law has been clear. A notion that has been known is that the mental health law, which offers a holistic perspective, positively influences the functioning of the mental health system in terms of service users and providers. However, whether or not it actually pursues these intended improvements has been subject to doubt. Until now, no mental health law has been effectively implemented in Turkey, and measuring and evaluating in which aspects the law will be successful and where it will fail have been impossible. Turkey continues to be in need of a mental health law is practical and in line with international standards for the rights of patients and supervision against coercive measures.

Thanks to our friends at H-madness for bringing this to our awareness.

From Photography to fMRI: Epistemic Functions of Images in Medical Research on Hysteria

A new open-access book may interest AHP readers: From Photography to fMRI: Epistemic Functions of Images in Medical Research on Hysteria by Paula Muhr. The book is described as follows:

Hysteria, a mysterious disease known since antiquity, is said to have ceased to exist. Challenging this commonly held view, this is the first cross-disciplinary study to examine the current functional neuroimaging research into hysteria and compare it to the nineteenth-century image-based research into the same disorder. Paula Muhr’s central argument is that, both in the nineteenth-century and the current neurobiological research on hysteria, images have enabled researchers to generate new medical insights. Through detailed case studies, Muhr traces how different images, from photography to functional brain scans, have reshaped the historically situated medical understanding of this disorder that defies the mind-body dualism.

Thanks to our friends at H-madness for bringing this to our awareness.

The Shadow of Slavery and the Measure of Miscegenation in American Eugenics, Feb 16 1:00-2:30 pm (EST)

Rana Hogarth, PhD

AHP readers will be interested in an upcoming online talk hosted by the Dittrick Medical History Center at Case Western Reserve University, February 16th, 1:00-2:30 pm (EST). The event is free to attend but registration is required.

“The Shadow of Slavery and the Measure of Miscegenation in American Eugenics,” presented by Rana Hogarth.

Slavery and its afterlives played a much larger role in the development of scientific opinions about the physical and intellectual fitness of mixed race people with Black ancestry (i.e. “mulattoes”) than has been acknowledged in histories of eugenics in the United States. Indeed, fears around race mixing that would later consume eugenicists in the early decades of the twentieth century were already entrenched within white American society in the eras of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. This talk examines the ways in which eugenicists employed scientific tools to measure the physical and intellectual abilities of so-called “Black and white racial hybrids.” As it draws attention to how eugenicists framed research questions about mixed race people’s bodies, this talk also traces the genealogy of the term “miscegenation,” and explores the process through which eugenicists made Blackness a legible biological trait through their studies of skin color, hair texture, and facial features.

The development of a creative work rehabilitation organisation

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in History of Psychiatry: “The development of a creative work rehabilitation organisation,” by Jonathan Leach, Peter Agulnik, and Neil Armstrong. Abstract:

Work as therapy has a place in mental healthcare, but there is disagreement about how and why it might be helpful, and how best to conceptualise or represent those benefits. Over the last 50 years, occupational and industrial therapy sheltered workshops have been key elements in the provision of work activities in psychiatric settings, and community-based horticultural activities and creative craft work have offered additional approaches. Using archival material, interviews, witness seminars and personal reflections, this article charts the birth and initial growth of Restore, a charity providing creative work-based services in Oxfordshire between 1977 and 1988. Although Restore might be understood as a response to national trends in mental healthcare policy and research, its trajectory reflects local contingencies.

George Stephen Penny (1885–1964): his life and medical encounters before, during and after admission to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum

A new article in History of Psychiatry may interest AHP readers: “George Stephen Penny (1885–1964): his life and medical encounters before, during and after admission to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum,” by Claire Hilton. Abstract:

Amid extensive press coverage, George Stephen Penny (1885–1964) was tried for murder in 1923. He was found ‘guilty but insane’ due to ‘confusional insanity’ associated with malaria which he suffered during World War I. Penny was admitted to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum at a time of great public concern about inadequate and cruel care in mental institutions, but he was treated with humanity and respect. Penny’s story also reveals much about challenges of psychiatric diagnosis and the relationships between crime, insanity, the public, lawyers and the medical profession. Following discharge from Broadmoor, Penny built himself a life in the community. His pseudonymous memoir, with masterly concealment of his identity and crime, tells his story up to 1925.

February 2023 HHS: Drive Theory, Positive Psychology, and More

The February 2023 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now available. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Maps of desire: Edward Tolman’s drive theory of wants,” Simon Torracinta. Abstract:

Wants and desires are central to ordinary experience and to aesthetic, philosophical, and theological thought. Yet despite a burgeoning interest in the history of emotions research, their history as objects of scientific study has received little attention. This historiographical neglect mirrors a real one, with the retreat of introspection in the positivist human sciences of the early 20th century culminating in the relative marginalization of questions of psychic interiority. This article therefore seeks to explain an apparent paradox: the attempt to develop a comprehensive theory of ‘why … we want what we want’ in the 1940s by esteemed American ‘neo-behaviorist’ psychologist Edward Tolman – a proponent of a methodology famous for its prohibition on appeals to unobservable mental phenomena. Though chiefly known today for his theory of ‘cognitive maps’, Tolman also sought to map the contours of desire as such, integrating Freudian and behaviorist models of the ‘drives’ to develop a complex iconography of the universal structures of motivation. Close attention to Tolman’s striking maps offers a compelling limit case for what could and could not be captured within an anti-mentalist framework, and illuminates an important precursor to theories of motivational ‘affect’ in the postwar cognitive and neurosciences. His work upsets a standard chronology that centers on the ‘cognitive revolution’ of the 1960s, and points to the significance of psychoanalysis to an earlier turn to cognitivism. Tolman concluded his theory pointed ‘in the direction of more socialism’ – a reminder of the politically labile anti-essentialism of behaviorism’s commitment to mental plasticity.

“Sin embodied: Priest-psychiatrist Asser Stenbäck and the psychosomatic approach to human problems,” Eve-Riina Hyrkäs. Abstract:

Combining theological and medical perspectives is indispensable for the historical study of the interconnections between mind, body, and soul. This article explores these relations through the history of Finnish psychosomatic medicine, and uses published and archival materials to examine the intellectual biography of the Finland-Swedish theologian turned psychiatrist Asser Stenbäck (1913–2006). Stenbäck’s career, which evolved from priesthood to psychiatry and politics, reveals a great deal about the tensions between religion and medicine, the spiritual and scientific groups that impinged upon psychosomatic medicine, and ideas on how health and Christian morality were interconnected. The biographical approach is adopted to unearth the values encoded in medical concepts, and through this, to point towards another, underexplored dimension of the health–religion relationship. In addition to their emotional aspect, religious doctrines are intended to organise life and give it meaning. Stenbäck’s ideas tied these experiential and normative spheres together by defending an irrationalist substratum of the world in the secular age of medicine. His work illustrates how the inner experience of faith can become both medically and politically purposive. It is worth combining these perspectives in historical research as well in order to better understand how the theological, medical, and political worlds are in dialogue when it comes to human problems.

“Religion and civilization in the sociology of Norbert Elias: Fantasy–reality balances in long-term perspective,” Andrew Linklater. Abstract:

Many sociologists have drawn attention to the puzzling absence of a detailed discussion of religion in Elias’s investigation of the European civilizing process. Elias did not develop a sociology of religion, but he did not overlook the importance of beliefs in the ‘spirit world’ in the history of human societies. In his writings such convictions were described as fantasy images that could be contrasted with ‘reality-congruent’ knowledge claims. Elias placed fantasy–reality balances, whether religious or secular, at the centre of the analysis of how societies have dealt with collective fears that arise in response to largely uncontrolled conditions. He located religious orientations within a broader framework of analysis regarding fantasy–reality balances in the first human groups and in current state-organized societies. Elias stressed how balances changed in ‘civilized’ societies with the rise of the natural sciences. But his writings emphasized the continuing influence of fantasy images in technologically sophisticated societies, particularly in the context of national and international power struggles. His analysis of how fantasy images acquired considerable influence under conditions of fear is important for studies of social responses to global challenges including climate change. Connections with Weber’s sociology of religion point the way to theoretically informed empirical research on balances between fantasy and reality-congruence in a tumultuous and unpredictable era.

“Cybernetics in the Republic,” Michele Kennerly. Abstract:

Plato’s Republic lurks in cybernetics, a word popularly attributed to US American mathematician Norbert Wiener (1894–1964). In his accounts of how he came up with it, however, Wiener never mentions Plato, though he does note it was formed from the ancient Greek word kubern?t?s (navigator). Among the earliest popular books about the cybernetics craze are three published in France, and their authors show a special interest in the origin of cybernetics. In something like learned rebukes to Wiener, all three books credit Plato with significant use of kubern?-based terms. This article presents evidence, one, that Wiener knows well he has chosen a word with a Platonic history and, two, that Wiener deems the technical and social climate of ancient Athens (and of the Republic) instructive only as an anti-model for the mid-20th-century United States and so does not feel compelled to associate cybernetics with Plato. Instead, Wiener focuses on the challenges cybernetics and automation pose for his own engineering-oriented, capitalist, multiracial, democratic republic. Wiener’s decisions not to use Plato as an authorizing force and not to put ancient Athens on a pedestal merit recognition, since subsequent writers link ancient Athens with cybernation via a presumption that cybernation will enable and fully democratize the sort of leisure activities, including thinking and participation in public life, deemed by some to be emblematic of ancient Athens.

“For or against the molecularization of brain science?: Cybernetics, interdisciplinarity, and the unprogrammed beginning of the Neurosciences Research Program at MIT,” Youjung Shin. Abstract:

It was no accident that the first neuroscience community, the Neurosciences Research Program (NRP), took shape in the 1960s at MIT, the birthplace of cybernetics. Francis O. Schmitt, known as the founding father of the NRP, was a famous biologist and an avid reader of cybernetics. Focusing on the intellectual and institutional context that Schmitt was situated in, this article unveils the way that the brain was conceptualized as a distinct object, requiring the launch of a new research community in the US. In doing so, this article moves beyond the dominant narratives on the triumph of molecularization of the brain at the beginning of neuroscience. Instead, it argues that what brought researchers together in the name of neuroscience was not just a molecule but an aspiration to develop biological theories of the brain/mind, which resonated with biologists in a postwar context and was materialized through support for basic research. The article highlights the tension over the computerization and molecularization of the brain, which shaped the interdisciplinary gathering of neuroscientists in the context of growing interest in basic research. Thereby, this article reveals the rise of theoretical concerns in brain science that reflect the distinct desires and concerns of biologists in the US at an intellectual and institutional level. By revisiting the launch of the NRP with a focus on Schmitt, the article sheds light on the historical contingencies in launching the new community as neuroscience in the US and their meaning for the locality and transiency of (inter)disciplinarity in brain science.

“Against well-being: A critique of positive psychology,” Luciano E. Sewaybricker and Gustavo M. Massola. Abstract:

More than two decades after his seminal paper ‘Subjective Well-Being’, Ed Diener wrote that he substituted happiness with well-being to obtain scientific credibility. Are the arguments echoed in positive psychology rigorous enough to justify this substitution? This article focuses on the historical examination of the word happiness, covering the lexical universes of ancient Greek, Latin, and English, seeking to identify the connections between them. We found that arguments for such substitution are sustained by a fragile appreciation of the semantic depth of happiness. Although it favors quantification, the current understanding of well-being obliterates the plurality of the debate about happiness and the recognition of other ideals of life. Thus, we conclude that well-being and happiness are semantically close, but conceptually, metaphysically, and empirically distinct, demanding, as objects, particular investigations.

Perinatal Mood Disorders Documentary: Bitter Milk

AHP readers may be interested in the short documentary Bitter Milk available now on YouTube:

Bitter Milk is a documentary about perinatal mood disorders (PMD) which silently affect most of the society, directly or indirectly, and still not much understood. This film is about the heart wrenching journey of a mother with postnatal mood disorder through a four seasons of period, accompanied by the comments of other affected women and experts. It combines science, history and the traditions on PMD. The aim of this documentary is to raise awareness of the rest of the society so that they can spot the disorder, understand it and help the women to access the expert help.

Thanks to our friends at H-Madness for bringing this to our attention.

“Down with fascism, up with science”: Activist psychologists in the U.S., 1932–1941

AHP readers will be interested in a new article in History of Psychology by Ben Harris ““Down with fascism, up with science”: Activist psychologists in the U.S., 1932–1941.” Abstract:

At the height of the Depression, more psychologists in the U.S. were awarded degrees than could find jobs. Master’s level graduates were particularly affected, holding positions that were tenuous, and they rejected second-class membership offered by the American Psychological Association. In response to this employment crisis, two Columbia University MA graduates created The Psychological Exchange, a journal that offered graduates and established colleagues a forum for news, job ads, and for discussing the expansion of psychology to address problems of the Depression. This article describes the Exchange and its unique window into psychologists debating how to reshape their field. In 1934, it was used by young Marxists to launch The Psychologists’ League, which agitated for colleagues who lost their jobs, tried to make research socially relevant, and connected with movements for the “social reconstruction” of society. It raised the consciousness of its members and sympathizers by linking to worldwide antifascist struggles while fighting antisemitism and nativism at home. While previous accounts make the League seem a spontaneous eruption, this article shows how members of the Communist Party created it, then controlled its agenda and activities. During the Stalin-Hitler pact they followed Stalin’s anti-war ideology and the League became a shell organization. Its members, nonetheless, creatively mixed psychological concepts and political ideology, drawing in colleagues through discussion groups, demonstrations, and social events. Sources for this work include unpublished correspondence, a diary, and Federal Bureau of Investigation files that reveal more complex lives than previously portrayed.

CfP: European Society for the History of the Human Sciences (ESHHS), Rome, July 4-7, 2023

The European Society for the History of the Human Sciences (ESHHS) invites submissions to its 42nd conference to be held from Tuesday 4 July to Friday 7 July, 2023 at the Villa Mirafiori in central Rome, which is home to the philosophy department of Sapienza University.

Oral presentations, posters, sessions or workshops may deal with any aspect of the history of the human, behavioral and social sciences or with related historiographic and methodological issues. The deadline for submissions is March 15, 2023. Full details about submissions can be found here.