Tag Archives: historiography

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.

On the Problems of Psychobiography – Comment in the American Psychologist

The recently released April issue of American Psychologist includes a comment from myself and Brianne Collins on a recent special section on psychobiography that appeared in the journal. In this brief comment, we outline some of the foundational issues with psychobiographical attempts to analysis contemporary and historical figures through the lens of what is presumed to be universal, ahistorical psychological theories.

“For whose benefit? Comment on the psychobiography special section,” by Jacy L. Young and Brianne M. Collins. Abstract:

This commentary addresses a recent special section on psychobiography that appeared in the pages of the July–August 2017 American Psychologist. The claims made by the authors of these articles raise a number of serious ethical, scientific, and historical concerns about psychobiography. These concerns include the potential public harm from the indiscriminate analysis of public figures; the inherent problem of publicly analyzing individuals without their participation or consent; overly deterministic conclusions of such analyses; difficulties analyzing figures from a distance and in retrospect; the impossibility of validating psychological theories through singular accounts; the presumption that psychological knowledge is ahistorical; the highly selective nature of psychobiography; and a focus on largely White, male figures as historically significant. These issues highlight the potential risks of this approach for both individuals under analysis and the broader public, while also questioning the professed benefit of psychobiography to psychological science and its value to historical scholarship.

Special Issue: Thinking About Denial

Now available from History Workshop Journal is a special issue dedicated to “Thinking About Denial.” Articles that may especially interest AHP readers are listed below, but the full issue is more than worth checking out.

“Thinking About Denial,” by Catherine Hall and Daniel Pick. The abstract reads as follows:

This essay considers the frequent and varied uses of ‘denial’ in modern political discourse, suggests the specific psychoanalytic meanings the term has acquired and asks how useful this Freudian concept may be for historians. It notes the debates among historians over the uses of psychoanalysis, but argues that concepts such as ‘denial’, ‘disavowal’, ‘splitting’ and ‘negation’ can help us to understand both individual and group behaviour. The authors dwell, especially, on ‘disavowal’ and argue it can provide a particularly useful basis for exploring how and why states of knowing and not knowing co-exist. Historical examples are utilized to explore these states of mind: most briefly, a fragment from a report about the war criminals, produced by an American psychiatrist at the Nuremberg Trial; at greater length, the political arguments and historical writings of an eighteenth-century slave-owner; and finally, a case in a borough of London in the late-twentieth-century, where the neglect, abuse and murder of a child was shockingly ‘missed’ by a succession of social agencies and individuals, who had evidence of the violence available to them.

“‘Wounds of the Heart’: Psychiatric Trauma and Denial in Hiroshima,” by Ran Zwigenberg. Abstract: Continue reading Special Issue: Thinking About Denial

New HoP: Neurohistory, Titchener at Oxford, & Debating the New History of Psych

Edward Bradford Titchener

The May 2017 issue of History of Psychology is now online. Articles in this issue explore neurohistory, the influence of Titchener’s Oxford years on his thought, and gender and psychoanalysis in 1940s Britain. The issue also features a special section devoted to “Debating the New History of Psychology.” Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Historiography, affect, and the neurosciences,” by Larry S. McGrath. Abstract:

Recent historiography has put to rest debates over whether to address the neurosciences. The question is how? In this article, I stage a dialogue between neurohistory and the history of the emotions. My primary goal is to survey these two clusters and clarify their conceptual commitments. Both center on the role of affect in embodied subjectivity; but their accounts widely diverge. Whereas neurohistorians tend to treat affects as automatic bodily processes, historians of the emotions generally emphasize that affects are meaningful and volitional activities. This divergence entails contrasting understandings of selfhood, embodiment, and historical change. More importantly, I argue, it reflects a broader realm of disputes within the neurosciences. The divisions among methodologies and commitments testify to the importance of historians’ selection of evidence as well as the critical perspectives they can bring to scientific debates. The neurosciences do not offer readymade theories. Secondarily, I take stock of the shared limitations of neurohistory and the history of the emotions. Both conceptualize the biological bases of affection as a universal ground for historical inquiry. By reexamining this transhistorical approach to neuroscientific evidence, I suggest that historiography might widen the horizon of interdisciplinary scholarship beyond the present options.

“From classicism and idealism to scientific naturalism: Titchener’s Oxford years and their impact upon his early intellectual development,” by Saulo de Freitas Araujo and Cintia Fernandes Marcellos. Abstract: Continue reading New HoP: Neurohistory, Titchener at Oxford, & Debating the New History of Psych

History of Psychiatry Podcast Series

hous_x180Robert Allan Houston, historian of English social history at St. Andrews in Scotland is producing a podcast series with the straightforward title ‘History of Psychiatry.’

Houston’s approach is simultaneously accessible and nuanced; the series is a nice listen of its own accord, but would also make for a quality teaching resource. He has posted three episodes so far, each a nicely digestible length hovering around ten minutes (as he puts it, “bite sized.” Their topics are as follows:

  • 1.1 Psychiatry And Its Subject
  • 1.2 An Historian’s Approach to Psychiatry: The Aims of the Series
  • 2.1 Melancholia and Mania: The Main Classifications

Here is the open source link for the podcast at Sound Cloud.

Find out more about the arc of the forty-four episodes total here, as covered by the Research @StAndrews Blog.