The epistemologies of research on the survival of consciousness after death in the golden era of the Society for Psychical Research (1882–1930)

A new piece now available online in History of Psychiatry may interest AHP readers: “The epistemologies of research on the survival of consciousness after death in the golden era of the Society for Psychical Research (1882–1930),” Pedro Henrique Costa de Resende, Alexander Moreira-Almeida, and Humberto Schubert Coelho. Abstract:

The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) of London was founded in 1882 with the purpose of investigating psychical phenomena, especially the theme of survival, with scientific rigour. Despite the recognized importance of the SPR for dynamic psychiatry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there are few studies of its epistemological contributions to the theme of survival and its implications to science. In order to fill this gap, we have consulted the main journals of the SPR in its golden period, and highlight the epistemologies of Sidgwick, Myers, James, Podmore, Schiller, Lodge and Richet. We conclude that the authors, whether for or against survival, argued in defence of an expanded science, and looked forward to understanding the complexity of human experience.

Trauma, protest, and therapeutic culture in Algeria since the 1980s

AHP readers will be interested in a new piece in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences: “Trauma, protest, and therapeutic culture in Algeria since the 1980s,” Mélanie Henry. Abstract:

This article focuses on the shift in sensitivities that took place between the 1980s and 2019 toward psychological suffering in Algeria. Promoters of psychotherapy showed an increase in receptivity—via the media, public authorities, and the general population—to their practices and discourses during this period. Based on professional literature, interviews with psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts, and newspaper articles and essays, this article considers the following aspects: the use of psychotherapy, the authority of psychoanalytic/psychopathological analyses, and the ethics of relation in politics. Taking a social and cultural history of politics approach, it traces the discontinuous politicization of psychotherapy over the course of events (namely the uprising of 1988, the civil war of the 1990s, and the 2019 popular movement) and examines the interactions between the state, popular mobilizations, and the psychotherapists. The civil war of the 1990s coincided with the normalization of “trauma” on a global scale, and procedures for the prevention of posttraumatic stress disorder were put in place in Algeria from 1997 onwards. In this process of legitimizing psychological suffering and its treatment, the promoters of psychotherapy who belonged to the less visible margins gained authority. The year-long protest movement (2019) against the regime performed the ethics of relation, focusing on human relations, reflexivity, and living together. Promoters of psychotherapy identified consistently with the political subjectivities produced within the 2019 popular movement characterized by massive pacifist marches against the regime.

Murder and Madness on Trial: A Tale of True Crime from Early Modern Bologna

AHP readers may be interested in a new book: Murder and Madness on Trial: A Tale of True Crime from Early Modern Bologna by Mònica Calabritto. The book is described as follows:

On October 24, 1588, Paolo Barbieri murdered his wife, Isabella Caccianemici, stabbing her to death with his sword. Later, Paolo would claim to have acted in a fit of madness—but was he criminally insane or merely pretending to be? In this riveting book, Mònica Calabritto addresses this controversy by reconstructing Paolo’s life, prosecution, and medical diagnoses.

Skillfully combining archival documents unearthed throughout Italy, Calabritto brings to light the case of one person and his family as insanity ravaged their financial security, honor, and reputation. The very notion of insanity is as much on trial in Paolo’s case as the defendant himself. A case study in the diagnosis of insanity in the early modern era, Barbieri’s story reveals discrepancies between medical and legal definitions of a person’s mental state at the time of a crime. Murder and Madness on Trial bridges the micro-historical dimensions of Paolo’s murder case and the macro-historical perspectives on medical and legal evidence used to identify intermittent madness.

A tragic and gripping tale, Murder and Madness on Trial allows readers to look “through a glass darkly” at early modern violence, madness, criminal justice, medical and legal expertise, and the construction and circulation of news. This erudite and engaging book will appeal to early modern historians and true crime fans alike.

A supposedly objective thing I’ll never use again: Word association and the quest for validity and reliability in emotional adjustment research from Carl Jung to Carl Rogers (1898–1927)

A new piece in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences will interest AHP readers: “A supposedly objective thing I’ll never use again: Word association and the quest for validity and reliability in emotional adjustment research from Carl Jung to Carl Rogers (1898–1927),” Catriel Fierro. Abstract:

As the first two decades of the 20th century unfolded, clinical psychologists, who had until then been mainly associated with intelligence testing, attempted to implement a specific psychological method—Carl Gustav Jung’s (1875–1961) word-association “test”—in individual personality assessments. As one of the early clinical psychologists who attempted to use the method, Carl Ransom Rogers (1902–1987) is conspicuously absent from the historiography of clinical psychological testing. In fact, historians have recently suggested that we are lacking narratives about Rogers’ early ideas and techniques in the context of both the development of clinical psychology and the emergence of psychological testing as clinicians’ foremost scholarly activity. In light of the above, this paper pursues two main goals. First, it attempts to reconstruct Rogers’ first original research project on emotional adjustment testing in young children in the broader context of the development of word-association tests as carried out by Jung and Whately Smith (1892–1947). Second, it aims to reconstruct Rogers’ earliest theoretical ideas as well as his epistemological assumptions regarding test objectivity, validity and reliability. By drawing on unpublished documents and heretofore overlooked primary sources I show that although Rogers initially drew from Jung and Smith’s complex and refined tradition, he ultimately rejected it as well as the tests themselves. At first drawn to Smith’s quantitative, empiricist and experimental philosophy of psychology, Rogers was deterred when the data gathered through his own research in 1927 suggested that word association tests had no real, effective clinical value when used in children. By showcasing the complex process of test construction and validation undertaken by 1920s clinical psychologists, Rogers’ case illustrates the research practices, the methodological problems and the epistemological dilemmas faced by most if not all of his contemporaries.

Wundt’s logic: Old resource for new ideas

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in Theory & Psychology: “Wundt’s logic: Old resource for new ideas,” Natalie Rodax, Dominik S. Mihalits, and Jaan Valsiner. Abstract:

Despite recent scholarship reappraising the complexity of Wilhelm Wundt’s complete works on psychology, contemporary psychology tends to overlook the fundamental epistemological and methodological principles outlined in his less popular writings on logic when engaging in methodological discussions. This article addresses this by situating Wundt’s logic volumes in his oeuvre and demonstrating the continued relevance of his methodological insights for contemporary psychology. Analysing Wundt’s Logic of Psychology, we develop three theses: (a) a multimethodological model is necessary to understand the interaction between individual psychology and völkerpsychologie, (b) Wundt’s völker-psychological analysis highlights the significance of cultural (document) data for psychology, and (c) the comparison between the theories of language of Wundt and Bühler clarifies that Wundt’s approach lacks a concept of dialogicality. We argue that only by understanding how cultural products serve a function in the individual history of micro-interactions can a meaningful connection between the individual and collective emerge.

The regional survey movement and popular autoethnography in early 20th-century Britain

AHP readers may be interested in a new open-access piece and winner of the 2022 History of the Human Sciences Early Career Prize: “The regional survey movement and popular autoethnography in early 20th-century Britain,” Harry Parker. Abstract:

This article’s subject is the theory and practice of ‘regional survey’, the method of social and environmental study associated with Scottish thinker Patrick Geddes (1854–1932). Despite being overlooked or dismissed in most accounts of early 20th-century social science, regional survey had a wide influence on the development of the nascent disciplines of anthropology, sociology, and human geography. Emerging from late 19th-century field biology, the regional survey came to typify a methodological moment in the natural and social sciences that favoured the holistic analysis of geographically delimited areas. By the interwar period, the kinds of projects that went under its name can clearly be seen as forerunners of the post-Second World War tradition of community studies. Additionally, in its self-presentation as a civic, participatory exercise, the regional survey can be read as a form of popular autoethnography that contrasts with other, more familiar social-scientific ventures in the first half of the 20th century, and defies the dichotomy between ‘gentlemanly’ and ‘technical’ modes of social science. As a result, this article argues, the regional survey provides an alternative point of departure for thinking about the origins and development of the modern social sciences in Britain.

Censorship at the American Psychological Association

AHP readers will be interested in a piece at Counterpunch, “Censorship at the American Psychological Association,” which explores a troubling case of censorship at the journal History of Psychology.

As Roy Eidelson writes,

… a manuscript can become ensnared by behind-the-scenes maneuvering and decision-making that have little to do with the merits of the article itself. In such cases, non-scholarly considerations supersede the well-established guideposts of impartial peer review and unbiased evaluation of a submission’s worthiness for publication. That was apparently the unfortunate fate of “A Military/Intelligence Operational Perspective on the American Psychological Association’s Weaponization of Psychology Post-9/11.” This article’s circuitous journey bears recounting here as a cautionary tale for the profession and for the APA.

Read the full piece here.

ETC Online Research Seminar on Madness in Premodern and Early Cultures

The Early Text Cultures research group based at the University of Oxford is delighted to announce our research seminar in Trinity Term (April – June 2023), will be on ‘Madness in Premodern and Early Cultures’. Sessions one and two will take place online on Wednesdays from 14:00-15:00 (UK Time). The third session comprises two talks and will begin at the earlier time of 11:00, concluding at 13:00. 

Humans experiencing mental distress have been attested throughout all regions and time periods. However, when discussing these experiences, our lexicon is often bound to modern psychological and medical jargon such as ‘illness’, ‘disorder’ and ‘mental health’. Yet Madness was – and can be – conceived of in a plethora of different ways. Disability Studies, Anti-psychiatry and the burgeoning discipline of Mad Studies offer new useful paradigms with which to conceptualise Madness in the modern age, but how should we discuss Mad people in history?

This series seeks to explore presentations of Madness from early and pre-modern time periods. From the widespread practice of trephination in numerous cultures of North Africa and South America, to medieval models for understanding mental distress in Foucault’s seminal Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (1961), Madness is a key theme within pre-modern studies. This series hopes to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration, bringing about new lenses with which to engage with texts.

The sessions will be held online, on Wednesday 2-3 pm (UK Time). Please note that the third session comprises two talks and will begin at 11 am, ending at 1 pm. The first session will be on Wednesday 24 May. Dr Alex Johnston (Oxford) will speak about ‘Divine Possession and Language in Homer and Sophocles’.

Please register here to receive Zoom links on the day of each session.


Week 5, 24 May

Alex Johnston (Oxford): Divine Possession and Language in Homer and Sophocles

Week 6, 31 May

Avital Rom (Cambridge): Messy Minds: The Epistemology of Madness in Ancient China

Week 9, 21 June (please note this session will begin at the earlier time of 11:00 and run until 13:00)

Toby Brandon (Northumbria) and Guest (TBD): Introducing Mad Studies

Natasha Downs (Edinburgh): A Mad-positive reading of Japanese Translations of Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Sounding Acoustic Precision: Tuning Forks and Cast Steel’s Nineteenth-Century Euro-American

A new piece in a special Focus section dedicated to “Supplied Knowledge: Resouce Regimes, Materials, and Epistemic Tools” in the June 2023 issue of Isis will interest AHP readers: “Sounding Acoustic Precision: Tuning Forks and Cast Steel’s Nineteenth-Century Euro-American Networks,” Fanny Gribenski and David Pantalony. Abstract:

A great variety of tuning forks survive in collections around the world, from departments of physics, phonetics, and psychology to medical settings, conservatories, and museum collections. Their ubiquity speaks to their iconic status, while their diversity points to the multifaceted cultures of materiality that shaped and formed around these objects. This essay traces the complex supply chains of nineteenth-century tuning forks, from the gathering and processing of iron ore and crucible steel, to their sites of manufacture, to their various uses. By probing further into these nodes of supply and use, the essay uncovers a chain of values and contingencies that reveal the interdependencies between extracting, commercial, scientific, and artistic practices of the past.

The crisis of modern society: Richard Titmuss and Emile Durkheim

AHP readers may be interested in a new open-access piece in History of the Human Sciences: “The crisis of modern society: Richard Titmuss and Emile Durkheim,” John Stewart. Abstract:

This article examines the influence of Emile Durkheim’s sociology on Richard Titmuss, founder of the academic field of social policy. While operating in different environments and historical eras, they shared concerns about modernity’s impact on contemporary societies, heightened by their experiences of living in periods of considerable political and socio-economic upheaval. Their social thought embraced crucial complementarities, and understanding these adds a previously under-explored dimension to Titmuss’s influential analyses of Britain’s post-war ‘welfare state’.