The November 2015 issue of Social History of Medicine includes several pieces of interest to AHP readers. Articles in this issue include ones that explore the modern construction of human subjects, madness during voyages to New Zealand during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and the use of case records of early 20th century Eastern European emigrants as sources. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Migration and Madness at Sea: The Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-century Voyage to New Zealand,” by Angela McCarthy.
This article draws on a range of sources—including surgeon superintendents’ reports as well as asylum records—to examine the mental health of migrants and crew on the voyage to New Zealand during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It examines key themes such as relations between crew and passengers, the emotional dimensions of insanity, attempts to export the insane, and collaboration between doctors and relatives in adhering to mental health legislation in order to repatriate the insane, all of which facilitate assessment of wider debates about medical authority. While surgeon superintendents documented actions rather than causes for unusual behaviour, asylum doctors and family members were more likely to attempt to explain mental disturbance at sea. Additionally, this article examines the beliefs of medical officials who paradoxically argued that the voyage was beneficial, rather than detrimental, to health.
“Making up ‘Vulnerable’ People: Human Subjects and the Subjective Experience of Medical Experiment,” by Nancy D. Campbell and Laura Stark.
This paper explores how ‘the human subject’ was figured historically and expands the interpretive range available to historians for understanding the subjective experiences of people who have served in medical experiments in the past. We compare LSD studies on healthy ‘volunteers’ conducted in two experimental settings in the 1950s: the US National Institutes of Mental Health’s (NIMH) Addiction Research Center (ARC) Lexington, Kentucky and the NIH Clinical Center (NIHCC) in Bethesda, Maryland. Sources consist of oral history interviews, transcripts and archival documents including photographs and records. Political priorities and historical contingencies relevant for crystalising the expert domain of modern bioethics, especially the 1960s US Civil Rights movement, were central for producing the ‘vulnerability’ attributed to the modern figure of the ‘human subject’. Using Ian Hacking’s historical ontology approach, we suggest how this figure of the ‘vulnerable human subject’ affected historical actors’ self-understandings while foreclosing paths of historical inquiry and interpretation.
The June 2015 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. The issue includes articles on the symptoms of schizophrenia, British colonial lunatic asylums, and “senile dementia” in the decades before 1979. Also in the issue is a classic text on symptoms in psychiatry by Hans W. Gruhle (right). Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“First rank symptoms of schizophrenia: their nature and origin,” by J. Cutting. The abstract reads,
Kurt Schneider’s insight nearly 80 years ago that schizophrenia could be demarcated from other psychoses by a small set of particular delusions and hallucinations powerfully influenced diagnostic practice. The theoretical status of such ‘first rank symptoms’ as a whole, however, has rarely been addressed. But if they are sensitive and specific to the condition, it is about time that their essential nature and potential origin be considered. This is the purpose of the present paper. I argue that these psychopathological phenomena are indeed relatively sensitive and specific to the condition, that their nature can be formulated within a Schelerian model of what constitutes a human being, and that their origin fits anthropological and neuropsychological notions of the make-up of contemporary human beings.
The most recent episode of the Psych Files features an interview with AHP blogger Jennifer Bazar. In “What Was Life Like in an Asylum?” Bazar describes life in the asylum in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As described on the Psych Files site,
Ever wondered what it was like to be a patient in an “insane asylum”? “Asylums” changed names over the years (including “State Hospital” and “Psychiatric Center”) and so did the treatment of the mentally ill. Hear from Dr. Jennifer Bazar how we went from chaining people up to hydrotherapy to sexual surgery and finally to what is called “moral treatment“. A fascinating walk down the history of psychology with an engaging psychology historian.
A recent article in Symbolic Interaction provides insight into sociologist Erving Goffman’s work on mental illness. As part of a freely available special issue dedicated to Goffman, Dmitri N. Shalin explores the role of Goffman’s personal biography on his work. In addition to a more general piece on this subject, “Interfacing Biography, Theory and History: The Case of Erving Goffman,” Shalin details how Goffman’s Asylums, as well as a briefer piece “The Insanity of Place” were informed by his personal experiences. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Interfacing Biography, Theory and History: The Case of Erving Goffman,” Dmitri N. Shalin. The abstract reads,
This study aims to show that much of Erving Goffman’s writing is crypto-biographical and that key turns in his intellectual career reflected his life’s trajectory and attempts at self-renewal. The case is made that Goffman’s theoretical corpus reflects his personal experience as a son of Russian–Jewish immigrants who struggled to raise himself from the obscurity of Canadian Manitoba to international stardom. The concluding section describes the Erving Goffman Archives and the contribution that the large database of documents and biographical materials assembled therein can make to biocritical hermeneutics, a research program focused on the relationship between biography, theory, and history.
“Goffman on Mental Illness: Asylums and “The Insanity of Place” Revisited,” Dmitri N. Shalin. The abstract reads,
This case study is designed to demonstrate that sociological imagination can feed on personal experience, that research practice interpolates our biographical circumstances, and that a systematic inquiry into the interplay between our professional and everyday life offers a fruitful avenue for sociological analysis. The discussion focuses on Erving Goffman’s treatment of mental illness. The argument is made that the evolution of Goffman’s constructionist views on mental disorder had been influenced by his family situation and personal experience.
Alongside mentions of monuments, churches and historical sites, a 19th-century tourist in New York might have found this recommendation in his or her guidebook: Visit the Bloomingdale Asylum for the Insane, in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan (on the grounds of what is now Columbia University).
“The approach to the Asylum from the southern entrance … is highly pleasing,” reads the 1880 guide “Miller’s New York As It Is.” The author continues, “The sudden opening of the view, the extent of the grounds, the various avenues gracefully winding through so large a lawn. … The central building … is always open to visitors, and the view from the top of it being the most extensive and beautiful of any in the vicinity of the city, is well worthy of their attention” (Miller, 1880, p. 46-47).
Recommending a visit to a mental hospital might seem surprising to modern readers, but this was not unusual at the time. In fact, the “asylum tourism” of the late 1800s was less voyeuristic than its earlier incarnations. The patients — sometimes including the powerless wives of jealous or bored aristocrats — had often been treated like animals, housed in institutions that were little more than human zoos. (It cost only a shilling to see “the beasts” rave at Bedlam, as the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, England, was then known.)