Tag Archives: autism

Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna

A new book  on Hans Asperger will interest AHP readers: Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna by Edith Sheffer. As described on the publisher’s site:

Hans Asperger, the pioneer of autism and Asperger syndrome in Nazi Vienna, has been celebrated for his compassionate defense of children with disabilities. But in this groundbreaking book, prize-winning historian Edith Sheffer exposes that Asperger was not only involved in the racial policies of Hitler’s Third Reich, he was complicit in the murder of children.

As the Nazi regime slaughtered millions across Europe during World War Two, it sorted people according to race, religion, behavior, and physical condition for either treatment or elimination. Nazi psychiatrists targeted children with different kinds of minds—especially those thought to lack social skills—claiming the Reich had no place for them. Asperger and his colleagues endeavored to mold certain “autistic” children into productive citizens, while transferring others they deemed untreatable to Spiegelgrund, one of the Reich’s deadliest child-killing centers.

In the first comprehensive history of the links between autism and Nazism, Sheffer uncovers how a diagnosis common today emerged from the atrocities of the Third Reich. With vivid storytelling and wide-ranging research, Asperger’s Children will move readers to rethink how societies assess, label, and treat those diagnosed with disabilities.


The Tinbergens on Austism, Ernest Jones in Toronto, and Psychiatry in Medical Education

Forthcoming in the Canadian Bulletin of the History of Medicine are several articles of interest to AHP readers. Details below.

“Ethopathology and Civilization Diseases: Niko and Elisabeth Tinbergen on Autism,” by Marga Vicedo. Abstract:

The idea that some diseases result from a poor fit between modern life and our biological make-up is part of the long history of what historian of medicine Charles Rosenberg has called the “progress-and-pathology narrative.” This article examines a key episode in that history: 1973 Nobel laureate Niko Tinbergen’s use of an evolutionary framework to identify autism as a pathogenic effect of progress. Influenced by British psychiatrist John Bowlby’s work, Tinbergen and his wife Elisabeth saw autistic children as victims of environmental stress caused mainly by mothers’ failure to bond with their children and to protect them from conflicting situations. However, the author argues that their position was not “environmental.” For them, autism was due to a failure of socialization but the mechanisms that explain that failure were established by biological evolution. Situating their views within the context of Niko’s concern about the derailment of biological evolution by cultural evolution, this article shows that their ideas are of special significance for understanding the persistence of the view that civilization poses a risk to human health.

“When Ernest Jones First Arrived in Toronto, or Reappraising the Bruce Letter,” by
Philip Kuhn. Abstract:

In July 1962, Toronto-based surgeon, Herbert Bruce, wrote a private and confidential letter to social worker and historian Cyril Greenland with some memories and impressions of Sigmund Freud’s lifelong friend and biographer, Ernest Jones, in Toronto (1908–1913). In the letter, Bruce described Jones as a ‘sexual pervert’. Despite Bruce’s condemnation of Jones, historians and biographers have largely ignored this controversial aspect of Jones’ impression in Toronto. The article traces how scholars have handled the existence of the Bruce letter, and the consequences for how this history has been understood. In the latter half of the article, the author considers how the existence of this letter offers insights into how the Toronto medical establishment regarded Ernest Jones.

“Psychiatry in American Medical Education: The Case of Harvard’s Medical School, 1900–1945,” by Tara H. Abraham. Abstract:

As American psychiatrists moved from the asylum to the private clinic during the early twentieth century, psychiatry acquired a growing presence within medical school curricula. This shift in disciplinary status took place at a time when medical education itself was experiencing a period of reform. By examining medical school registers at Harvard University, records from the Dean’s office of Harvard’s medical school, and oral histories, this paper examines the rise in prominence of psychiatry in medical education. Three builders of Harvard psychiatry—Elmer E. Southard, C. Macfie Campbell, and Harry C. Solomon—simultaneously sought to mark territory for psychiatry and its relevance, and in doing so, I argue, capitalized on three related elements: the fluidity that existed between psychiatry and neurology, the new venues whereby medical students gained training in psychiatry, and the broader role of patrons, professional associations, and certification boards, which sought to expand psychiatry’s influence in the social and cultural life of twentieth-century America.

Winter 2018 JHBS: Ida Frye on Autism, Operative Psychology in Germany, and More

The Winter 2018 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now available. Articles in this issue explore the Peace Corps in the Philippines, the work of Ida Frye on autism, and “operative psychology” in the German Democratic Republic. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“The creation of a postcolonial subject: The Chicago and Ateneo de Manila schools and the Peace Corps in the Philippines, 1960–1970,” by Christa Wirth. Abstract:

In the 1950s and 1960s scholars from the University of Chicago and the Ateneo de Manila created social scientific knowledge that helped establish the Peace Corps as a Cold War institution in the Philippines. Central were the social scientists at the University of Chicago and the Ateneo de Manila University who established a knowable postcolonial subject: “the Filipino,” which resulted from their research on Philippine values. In this context, the Ateneo/Chicago social scientists developed the “SIR,” the “smooth interpersonal relation” model that entails the notion that Filipinos and Filipinas particularly valued this nonconfrontational skill set among people. The SIR model was taught by social science experts to early Peace Corps volunteers as they prepared for their assignments in the Philippines. The article shows how the SIR model could cause distress and confusion as it was applied by Peace Corps volunteers in the Philippines.

“Rethinking the origins of autism: Ida Frye and the unraveling of children’s inner world in the Netherlands in the late 1930s,” by Annemieke Van Drenth. Abstract: Continue reading Winter 2018 JHBS: Ida Frye on Autism, Operative Psychology in Germany, and More

HHS Special Issue: Psychotherapy in Historical Perspective

Sarah Marks

The April 2017 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Guest edited by Sarah Marks, this special issue explores “Psychotherapy in Historical Perspective.” Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Psychotherapy in historical perspective,” by Sarah Marks. Abstract:

This article will briefly explore some of the ways in which the past has been used as a means to talk about psychotherapy as a practice and as a profession, its impact on individuals and society, and the ethical debates at stake. It will show how, despite the multiple and competing claims about psychotherapy’s history and its meanings, historians themselves have, to a large degree, not attended to the intellectual and cultural development of many therapeutic approaches. This absence has the potential consequence of implying that therapies have emerged as value-free techniques, outside of a social, economic and political context. The relative neglect of psychotherapy, by contrast with the attention historians have paid to other professions, particularly psychiatry, has also underplayed its societal impact. This article will foreground some of the instances where psychotherapy has become an object of emerging historical interest, including the new research that forms the substance of this special issue of History of the Human Sciences.

“The action of the imagination: Daniel Hack Tuke and late Victorian psycho-therapeutics,” by Sarah Chaney. Abstract:

Histories of dynamic psychotherapy in the late 19th century have focused on practitioners in continental Europe, and interest in psychological therapies within British asylum psychiatry has been largely overlooked. Yet Daniel Hack Tuke (1827–95) is acknowledged as one of the earliest authors to use the term ‘psycho-therapeutics’, including a chapter on the topic in his 1872 volume, Illustrations of the Influence of the Mind upon the Body in Health and Disease. But what did Tuke mean by this concept, and what impact did his ideas have on the practice of asylum psychiatry? At present, there is little consensus on this topic. Through in-depth examination of what psycho-therapeutics meant to Tuke, this article argues that late-19th-century asylum psychiatry cannot be easily separated into somatic and psychological strands. Tuke’s understanding of psycho-therapeutics was extremely broad, encompassing the entire field of medical practice (not only psychiatry). The universal force that he adopted to explain psychological therapies, ‘the Imagination’, was purported to show the power of the mind over the body, implying that techniques like hypnotism and suggestion might have an effect on any kind of symptom or illness. Acknowledging this aspect of Tuke’s work, I conclude, can help us better understand late-19th-century psychiatry – and medicine more generally – by acknowledging the lack of distinction between psychological and somatic in ‘psychological’ therapies.

“‘Subordination, authority, psychotherapy’: Psychotherapy and politics in inter-war Vienna,” by David Freis. Abstract: Continue reading HHS Special Issue: Psychotherapy in Historical Perspective

Essay Review: “Putting the Present in the History of Autism”

Now in press at Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences is “Putting the Present in the History of Autism” by Sam Fellowes. In this essay review, Fellowes evaluates the history of autism as presented in two recent books, Steve Silberman’s Neurotribes and John Donvan & Karen Zucker’s In A Different Key.  As Fellowes writes in his introduction,

Recent media reviews of these books have been generally positive and although I highlight the positive elements, my primary focus is on some of the significant problems in these books. Both books have made some historical errors but they seem more problematic in Silberman’s case. Donvan & Zucker largely stick to describing a series of events whereas Silberman weaves specific events into a wider narrative, one which treats the modern classification of autism as correct scientific fact. The only evidence present in Neurotribes for this approach is implicit in Silberman’s history: the classification of autism employed historically used to be deeply flawed so therefore our modern notion is good. I will highlight problematic historical assertions both books make but largely focus upon showing how those errors undermine Silberman’s narrative. This critique gives more credibility to the alternative conceptions of autism he largely dismisses.

The full essay review can be found (behind a paywall) here.