This paper looks at phrenological charts as mediators of (pseudo-)scientific knowledge to individual clients who used them as a means of self-assessment. Phrenologists propagated the idea that the human mind could be categorized into different mental faculties, with each particular faculty represented in a different area of the brain and by bumps on the head. In the US and the UK popular phrenologists examined individual clients for a fee. Drawing on a collection of phrenological charts completed for individual clients, this paper shows how charts aspired to convey new ideals of selfhood by using the authority of science in tailor-made certificates, and by teaching clients some of the basic practices of that science. Hitherto historians studying phrenology have focused mainly on the attraction of the content of phrenological knowledge for the wider public, but in this paper I show how the charts enabled clients to participate actively in creating knowledge of their own bodies and selves.
The December 2016 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Articles in this issue explore psychiatric classification in the DSM, Italian colonial psychiatry, the phrenological studies of skulls, and more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Italian colonial psychiatry: Outlines of a discipline, and practical achievements in Libya and the Horn of Africa,” by Marianna Scarfone. The abstract reads,
This article describes the establishment of psychiatry in Italy’s former colonies during the period 1906–43, in terms of the clinical and institutional mechanisms, the underlying theories and the main individuals involved. ‘Colonial psychiatry’ (variously called ‘ethnographic’, ‘comparative’ or ‘racial’ psychiatry) – the object of which was both to care for mentally afflicted colonists and local people and also to understand and make sense of their pathologies – received most attention in colonial Libya, starting in the first months of the Italian occupation (1911–12) and then taking institutional form in the 1930s; in the colonies of what was known as ‘Italian East Africa’, on the other hand, less was said about psychiatric care, and practical achievements were correspondingly limited.
The November 2015 issue of History of Psychology is now online. Articles in this issue explore forensic psychology in Germany, phrenology in Gilded Age America, and much more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Anthropophagy: A singular concept to understand Brazilian culture and psychology as specific knowledge,” by Arthur Arruda Leal Ferreira. The abstract reads,
The aim of this work is to present the singularity of the concept of anthropophagy in Brazilian culture. This article examines its use in the Modernist Movement of the 1920s and explores the possibilities it creates for thinking about Brazilian culture in nonidentitarian terms. We then use the concept of anthropophagy in a broader, practical sense to understand psychology as a kind of anthropophagical knowledge. We do so because in many ways the discipline of psychology is similar to Brazilian culture in its plurality and complexity.
““God save us from psychologists as expert witnesses”: The battle for forensic psychology in early twentieth-century Germany,” by Heather Wolffram. The abstract reads,
This article is focused on the jurisdictional battle between psychiatrists and psychologists over psychological expertise in legal contexts that took place during the first decades of the 20th century. Using, as an example, the debate between the psychologist William Stern, the psychiatrist Albert Moll, and the jurist Albert Hellwig, which occurred at the International Congress for Sexual Research held in Berlin in 1926, it aims to demonstrate the manner in which psychiatrists’ responses to psychologists’ attempts to gain admittance to Germany’s courtrooms were shaped not only by epistemological and methodological objections, but also by changes to expert witnessing that had already encroached on psychiatrists’ professional territory. Building upon recent work examining the relationship between psychologists and jurists prior to the First World War, this article also seeks to examine the role of judges and lawyers in the contest over forensic psychology in the mid-1920s, arguing that they ultimately became referees in the increasingly public disputes between psychiatrists and psychologists.
BBC 4’s series History of the Future “uses the fascinating objects in the Science Museum in London to chart how our understanding of ourselves and our technology has changed over time.” Associated blogger Melissa Hogenbloom posted a piece titled “A brief history of our desire to peer into the brain,” which surveys methods from phrenology to EEG, CT Scan and fMRI. Included are video clips of Science Museum curator Katie Dabin showing Hogenbloom their relevant collection, including ceramic phrenological heads and early electroencephalography technology.
That post, with the films of Dabin’s explanations, can be found here.
The Constitution of Man by George Combe (1828) was probably the most influential phrenological work of the nineteenth century. It not only offered an exposition of the phrenological theory of the mind, but also presented Combe’s vision of universal human progress through the inheritance of acquired mental attributes. In the decades before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, the Constitution was probably the single most important vehicle for the dissemination of naturalistic progressivism in the English-speaking world. Although there is a significant literature on the social and cultural context of phrenology, the role of heredity in Combe’s thought has been less thoroughly explored, although both John van Wyhe and Victor L. Hilts have linked Combe’s views on heredity with the transformist theories of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. In this paper I examine the origin, nature and significance of his ideas and argue that Combe’s hereditarianism was not directly related to Lamarckian transformism but formed part of a wider discourse on heredity in the early nineteenth century.