The Premonitions Bureau: A True Account of Death Foretold

AHP readers may be interested in the new book The Premonitions Bureau: A True Account of Death Foretold by Sam Knight. The book is described as follows:

On the morning of October 21, 1966, Kathleen Middleton, a music teacher in suburban London, awoke choking and gasping, convinced disaster was about to strike. An hour later, a mountain of rubble containing waste from a coal mine collapsed above the village of Aberfan, swamping buildings and killing 144 people, many of them children. Among the doctors and emergency workers who arrived on the scene was John Barker, a psychiatrist from Shelton Hospital, in Shrewsbury. At Aberfan, Barker became convinced there had been supernatural warning signs of the disaster, and decided to establish a “premonitions bureau,” in conjunction with the Evening Standard newspaper, to collect dreams and forebodings from the public, in the hope of preventing future calamities.

Middleton was one of hundreds of seemingly normal people, who would contribute their visions to Barker’s research in the years to come, some of them unnervingly accurate. As Barker’s work plunged him deeper into the occult, his reputation suffered. But in the face of professional humiliation, Barker only became more determined, ultimately realizing with terrible certainty that catastrophe had been prophesied in his own life.

In Sam Knight’s crystalline telling, this astonishing true story comes to encompass the secrets of the world. We all know premonitions are impossible—and yet they come true all the time. Our lives are full of collisions and coincidence: the question is how we perceive these implausible events and therefore make meaning in our lives. The Premonitions Bureau is an enthralling account of madness and wonder, of science and the supernatural. With an unforgettable ending, it is a mysterious journey into the most unsettling reaches of the human mind.

Psychoanalysizing science itself: Psychoanalysis, philosophy of science and scientific research in the institutionalization of Argentinian psychology (1962–1983)

A new piece in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences will interest AHP readers: “Psychoanalysizing science itself: Psychoanalysis, philosophy of science and scientific research in the institutionalization of Argentinian psychology (1962–1983),” Catriel Fierro, Saulo de Freitas Araujo. Abstract:

To clarify the historical origins of theoretical and methodological problems faced by Argentinian psychology today, this article describes the philosophical and epistemological ideas held by psychoanalytically oriented professors and transmitted to undergraduate students during the institutionalization and professionalization of psychology at Argentinian universities between 1962 and 1983. Drawing from primary sources such as official publications and undergraduate syllabi, we analyze the systematic and normative perspective of those psychoanalysts on issues such as the nature of science, the scientific method, and the legitimate ways to do research. We argue that the philosophical approach they defended within psychology programs was markedly relativistic, solipsistic, and often recursive, leading them to conceive of psychoanalysis both as a meta-theory and a self-sufficient science. The fact that this “theory-laden” philosophy of science was gradually adopted by psychology graduates (or undergraduates) throughout their education could thus help explain several epistemological beliefs currently held by a majority of Argentinian psychologists.

Managing Chineseness: neurasthenia and psychiatry in Taiwan in the second half of the twentieth century

A new article now available online from History of Psychiatry may interest AHP readers: “Managing Chineseness: neurasthenia and psychiatry in Taiwan in the second half of the twentieth century,” by Wen-Ji Wang. Abstract:

The present study investigates the role of Taiwanese psychiatrists in turning neurasthenia into a culture-specific disease in the late twentieth century. It first delineates the shift in both explanatory models of psychoneuroses and patient population in post-World War II Taiwan. Neurasthenia became a focus of international attention in the 1970s and 1980s with the advance of cultural psychiatry, and, as China was closed to the outside world, Taiwanese psychiatrists were influential in framing the cultural meaning of neurasthenia. With the rise of post-socialist China, Taiwan lost its status as a key laboratory of Chinese studies. This paper argues that the history of neurasthenia during the period was closely associated with the professional development and national identity of Taiwanese psychiatrists.

Miracles of Healing: Psychotherapy and Religion in Twentieth-Century Scotland

AHP readers will be interested in a new book: Miracles of Healing: Psychotherapy and Religion in Twentieth-Century Scotland by Gavin Miller. The book is described as follows:

Although a tide of secularization swept over the post-war United Kingdom, Christianity in Scotland found one way to survive by drawing on alliances that it had built earlier in the century with psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Psychoanalysis was seen as a way to purify Christianity, and to propel it in a scientifically rational and socially progressive direction. This book draws upon a wealth of archival research to uncover the complex interaction between religion and psychotherapy in twentieth-century Scotland. It explores the practical and intellectual alliance created between the Scottish churches and Scottish psychotherapy that found expression in the work of celebrated figures such as the radical psychiatrist R. D. Laing and the pioneering psychoanalyst W. R. D. Fairbairn, as well as the careers of less well-known individuals such as the psychotherapist Winifred Rushforth.

Changing Psychiatry or Changing Society? The Motion for the Rights of the “Mentally Ill” in Greece, 1980-1990

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences: “Changing Psychiatry or Changing Society? The Motion for the Rights of the “Mentally Ill” in Greece, 1980-1990,” Despo Kritsotaki. Abstract:

In 1980, the first formal association of mental patients, their relatives, and mental health professionals was founded in Athens, Greece. The Motion for the Rights of the “Mentally Ill” proposed a total restructuring of mental health care and a novel conceptualization of mental illness. On the one hand, it demanded that the mental health system be based on open services, psychotherapy, and on patients’ active participation in all decisions concerning their treatment and life. On the other hand, it conceptualized mental illness as a political issue that concerned all. Thus, the Motion viewed the promotion of the rights of the mentally ill as part of a broader project of cultivating conscious, active, and collective citizenship. This paper traces the Motion’s history during the 1980s, showing that it was shaped by both the socio-political conditions of Greece in the post-dictatorship period, a time of intense politicization, and by the legacy of mental patient activism in the Western world during the 1970s and 1980s. It argues that, although the Motion had a limited long-term impact, it represented the mental patient movement in Greece as it furthered the latter’s main features, most importantly its twofold endeavor to change not only the mental health system and the attitudes towards mental illness, but also society.

“The art of imposing measurement upon the mind”: Sir Francis Galton and the genesis of the psychometric paradigm

A new piece by Joel Michell in Theory & Psychology may interest AHP readers: ““The art of imposing measurement upon the mind”: Sir Francis Galton and the genesis of the psychometric paradigm.” Abstract:

Sir Francis Galton singlehandedly instigated the navigational settings for the discipline of psychometrics by presupposing that mental attributes are measurable. In turn, this presupposition became the defining pillar of the psychometric paradigm. There were no scientifically sound reasons for adopting this presupposition and those Galton gave beg the question every time. So, what drove him to endorse this presupposition? Two considerations steered him in this direction: first, his Pythagorean philosophy of science according to which measurement is a necessary feature; and second, his desire to present eugenics as a science, which, given his Pythagorean vision, entailed that eugenics must involve measurement of relevant mental attributes. The quantitative presupposition guiding psychometrics throughout its history was, therefore, a spin-off from Galton’s marketing strategy for the pseudoscience of eugenics.

The Medicalization of the Transsexual: Patient-Physician Narratives in the First Half of the Twentieth Century

AHP readers may be interested in a piece in the new issues of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences: “The Medicalization of the Transsexual: Patient-Physician Narratives in the First Half of the Twentieth Century,” by Marta V. Vicente. Abstract:

This article explores the history of what the German-American endocrinologist Harry Benjamin labeled in 1966, “the transsexual phenomenon.” By mid-century, a growing number of individuals in both Europe and America were approaching physicians such as Benjamin searching for answers and means to change their bodies to match their gender. This phenomenon had started in Europe in the 1930s, when the Danish painter Einar Wegener underwent a series of operations that transformed a body defined at birth as male into the female body of Lili Elbe. The news of Elbe’s transformation ignited interest and discussion among physicians as well as the public on the capacity science had to alter bodies to fit their intended selves. The case of Elbe combines the three main aspects studied in this article—the medicalization of the homosexual, the birth of the transsexual, and the physician–patient relationship in transsexual narratives. The study of physician and patient narratives allow us to see how the transsexual phenomenon was in fact created out of the intersection of interests from both physicians and their transsexual patients.


Spring Issue of JHBS – Including a New Perspectives Section

The Spring 2022 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Notably, the new spring issue of JHBS debuts a new feature – Perspectives. In this inaugural Perspectives section, authors draw back the curtain on historical practice, tackling the complexities, mysteries, and challenges of working in and with archives.

Titles, authors, and abstracts for pieces in the issue are provided below.

“Diagnosing the “master mechanism of the universe” in interwar and war-era America,” Heather Murray. Abstract:

Drawing on personal testimonials and questions addressed to psychiatric hospital officials, this article explores how patients and their loved ones engaged with the idea of diagnosis in interwar and war-era America. I argue that diagnosis had synergies with intellectual sensibilities of American modernity, among them an enthusiasm for science and newness, a modernist sense of time that could be both forward- and backward-looking, and a knowable, interpreted self. While self-understanding and the creation of life narratives were more often considered the bailiwick of psychoanalysis in this period, understanding subjectivity and self-interpretation were not solely expressed in its conceptual vocabulary. Patient and family dialogs with diagnosis and psychiatric authorities allow for an illumination of the interaction between domestic intuitions, common sense, and folk wisdom, on the one hand, and institutional taxonomy, categorization, and scientific terminology on the other, or more broadly, between dispositions that are ostensibly antimodern and more modern ideas. I suggest that the protean and wide-ranging intellectual origins of the discipline of psychiatry, along with the inherent ambiguity of psychiatric diagnosis during the early 20th century, allowed patients to participate in their own medicalization in the most capacious way possible: by combining biology with diagnostic narrative capacities, as well as broader perceptions of morality and character. In the concluding reflection, I speculate about why it is that late 20th-century American critics and activists have tended to view diagnosis and medicalization as coercive and threatening, in contrast to earlier 20th-century patients and their intimate observers.

“Kiær and the rebirth of the representative method: A case-study in controversy management at the International Statistical Institute (1895–1903),” Dominic Lusinchi. Abstract:

Anders N. Kiær (1838–1919), the director of Norway’s Central Bureau of Statistics between 1877 and 1913, was the foremost promoter, at the turn of the 20th century, of the rebirth of what came to be known as the “representative method” or sample survey. His advocacy of a methodology that had been abandoned at the beginning of the 19th century in favor of complete enumeration (the census) provoked a controversy at the International Statistical Institute (ISI) when he first presented it in 1895. Yet, it was “recommended” in fairly short order, by 1903. This was the result of a convergence of factors that prevented the dispute from degenerating into a full-blown conflict and facilitated continuing the discussion while preventing a potential break-up of the association. To understand how this came about, the paper examines (1) the role of the historical background from which the ISI emerged; (2) the epistemic beliefs that informed the ISI members in their daily professional practice; (3) the social structure of the ISI and its “ethos”; (4) the professional standing Kiær enjoyed within the international statistical community. This is a case-study in the sociology of how and why some scientific practices initially seen as “dangerous” gain acceptance and become part of science’s lore.

“Franz Joseph Gall on God and religion: “Dieu et Cerveau, rien que Dieu et cerveau!”
Paul Eling, Stanley Finger. Open access. Abstract:

Franz Joseph Gall’s (1758–1828) doctrine of many faculties of mind with corresponding cortical organs led him to be accused of materialism, fatalism, and even atheism. Yet little has been written about the specific charges he felt forced to respond to in Vienna, while visiting the German States, or in Paris, where he published his books. This article examines these accusations and Gall’s responses. It also looks at what Gall wrote about a cortical faculty for God and religion and seeing intelligent design in the functional organization of the brain. Additionally, it presents what can be gleaned about his private thoughts on God and organized religion. We conclude that Gall was sincere in his admiration for and belief in God the Creator, but that as an enlightened scientist was recognizing the need to separate metaphysics from the laws of nature when presenting his new science of man.

“Harry Harlow’s pit of despair: Depression in monkeys and men,” Lenny van Rosmalen, Maartje P. C. M. Luijk, Frank C. P. van der Horst. Open access. Abstract:

Major depressive disorder is the most common mood disorder in the United States today and the need for adequate treatment has been universally desired for over a century. Harry Harlow, famous for his research with rhesus monkeys, was heavily criticized when he undertook his controversial experiments trying to find a solution for depression in the 1960s–1970s. His research, however, did not just evolve gradually from his earlier research into learning and into love. Recently disclosed hand-written notes show, for the first time, the severity of Harlow’s depressions as he wrote in detail about his feelings and thoughts during his stay in a mental hospital in 1968. In these notes, Harlow repeatedly vowed to put every effort into finding a cure for depression. This may, for a large part, explain why he did not stop his rigorous animal experiments where critics argue he should have, and he eventually managed to book positive results.


“More questions than answers: Interrogating restricted access in the archives,” Kacie Lucchini Butcher. Abstract:

This study is a reflective piece that grew out of the Archival Kismet Conference in April of 2021. What happens when you find your “archival kismet”—the document that is essential to your research—and it is restricted? In conjunction with archival silences, how do these restrictions affect our ability to understand the past? I begin with these questions and use two case studies to challenge and complicate the practice of restricted access in archives. Using a dialogic approach, I provide a set of questions and considerations groups can use to begin to probe materials with archival restrictions. I urge a reflective and collaborative approach between archivists, public historians, and community to re-evaluate the practice of archival restrictions.

“On why history is never finished: Puységur, animal magnetism, and the importance of collective scholarship,” Adam Crabtree, Eberhard Bauer. No abstract provided.

“The Hirschfeld horoscope: Archival trails and urban subcultures,” Rachel Pitkin. Abstract:

This article explores what it means to work with decontextualized or mysterious archival traces within collections that already contain obscured provenance. In particular, it compels us to consider what a single object can tell us about the individual, Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, and what it can teach us about the larger queer community from which it may have originated. Astrology, the occult, and new forms of spirituality proliferated in Weimar Germany, emerging from the late 19th century psy sciences and evolving within Berlin’s urban landscape. The extent to which these occult and alternative pathways held a queer dimension is unknown, but not improbable.

Book Reviews

Frontier Struggles: Rollo May and the Little Band of Psychologists Who Saved Humanism James Schlett Series: Center for the History of Psychology. University of Akron Press, 2021. 228 pp. $59.95 (paper). ISBN 9781629221304; 9781629221311 (ebook)
Ed Mendelowitz

A Joyfully Serious Man: The Life of Robert Bellah Matteo Bortolini Princeton University Press, 2021. 528 pp. $35.00 (cloth). ISBN 9780691204406; 9780691204390 (ebook)
Susan E. Henking

If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future Jill Lepore Liveright, 2020. 432 pp. $28.95 (cloth). ISBN-13: 978-1-63149-610-3; 978-1-324-09112-7 (paper)
Jamie L. Pietruska

Mentalizing and Epistemic Trust: The Work of Peter Fonagy and Colleagues at the Anna Freud Centre Robbie Duschinsky and Sarah Foster Oxford University Press, 2021. 304 pp. £50.00 (cloth & open access pdf). ISBN: 978-0-19887118-7
Frank C. P. van der Horst

Anti-semitism and analytical psychology: Jung, politics and culture Burston, Daniel Routledge, 2021. 140 pp. ISBN 9780367426736
Andrew S. Winston

How We Became Sensorimotor: Movement, Measurement, Sensation Mark Paterson University of Minnesota Press, 2021. 320 pp. $35.00 (paper). ISBN 978-1-5179-0999-4; 978-1-5179-1000-6 (cloth)
Roger Smith

Response to Roger Smith
Mark Paterson

Development: The History of a Psychological Concept Christopher Goodey Cambridge University Press, 2021. 300 pp. £85.00 (cloth). ISBN 9781108833479
Fredric Weizmann

Making A Grade: Victorian Examinations and the Rise of Standardized Testing James Elwick University of Toronto Press, 2021. 234 pp. $70.00 (cloth). ISBN 9781487508937; 9781487539351 (ebook)
William J. Reese

Jim Crow Sociology: The Black and Southern Roots of American Sociology Earl Wright University of Cincinnati Press, 2020 250 pp. $50.00 (cloth). ISBN 9781947602571
Stephen Steinberg

Quantifying Sexual Constitution: Abraham Myerson’s Endocrine Study of Male Homosexuality, 1938–1942

A new piece in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences may interest AHP readers: “Quantifying Sexual Constitution: Abraham Myerson’s Endocrine Study of Male Homosexuality, 1938–1942,” by Matthew J. McLaughlin. Abstract:

Using the new medical science of endocrinology, scientific sex researchers in the 1920s and 1930s began studying sex hormone excretion as a means to search for the biological basis of human sexuality. One of these researchers was Abraham Myerson, a leading psychiatrist and researcher from Boston who conducted a series of innovative endocrine experiments between 1938 and 1942 in an effort to establish a relationship between sex hormone excretion patterns and homosexuality in men. While prevailing cultural models of heteronormativity identified male homosexuality as an abnormal case of biological femininity in men, Myerson’s framework and experimental research transcended this limiting duality of sexual biology. Adopting the theory of bisexuality, he argued that all men possessed a natural variability of masculine and feminine traits in their biological, social, and sexual characteristics, and that the disparity among these traits could be quantified and understood using sex hormones. In reconstructing Myerson’s research methods and data analysis, this paper uncovers how he established a distinctive diagnostic method and classification system for male homosexuality and illuminates how he conceptualized and categorized male sexuality as quantifiable and independent of personality.

New Book: Performing Brains on Screen

Fernando Vidal’s new book Performing Brains on Screen will interest AHP readers. The back cover describes the book as follows:

Performing Brains on Screen deals with film enactments and representations of the belief that human beings are essentially their brains, a belief that embodies one of the most influential modern ways of understanding the human. Films have performed brains in two chief ways: by turning physical brains into protagonists, as in the “brain movies” of the 1950, which show terrestrial or extra-terrestrial disembodied brains carrying out their evil intentions; or by giving brains that remain unseen inside someone’s head an explicitly major role, as in brain transplantation films or their successors since the 1980s, in which brain contents are transferred and manipulated by means of information technology. Through an analysis of filmic genres and particular movies, Performing Brains on Screen documents this neglected filmic universe, and demonstrates how the cinema has functioned as a cultural space where a core notion of the contemporary world has been rehearsed and problematized.  

“The Cartesian subject may be dead but our brains still haven’t figured that out. In Performing Performing Brains on Screen, Fernando Vidal provides an impressive survey of the brain as protagonist across a pulpy expanse of fiction and cinema, examining how the continuing equation of brain and selfhood informs popular understandings of identity, consciousness, and memory.  Essential reading for neuroscientists, cinephiles, and anyone else who has ever pondered the odd yet enduring convention of brains transplanted, escaped, switched, uploaded, and otherwise liberated from the body as a spongy receptacle of selfhood.”   

Jeffrey Sconce, Professor, Screen Cultures program,
School of Communication, Northwestern University