An article forthcoming in the British Journal for the History of Science, now available online, may be of interest to AHP readers: “Science and self-assessment: phrenological charts 1840–1940,” by Fenneke Sysling. Abstract:
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 July 2015 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Among the articles in this issue are one’s on Durkheim’s followers, psychologist Mark May’s influence on the Institute of Human Relations at Yale University, and the relationship between neurofeedback and the self. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“On equal temperament: Tuning, modernity and compromise,” by Michael Halewood. The abstract reads,
In this article, I use Stengers’ (2010) concepts of ‘factish’, ‘requirements’ and ‘obligations’, as well as Latour’s (1993) critique of modernity, to interrogate the rise of Equal Temperament as the dominant system of tuning for western music. I argue that Equal Temperament is founded on an unacknowledged compromise which undermines its claims to rationality and universality. This compromise rests on the standardization which is the hallmark of the tuning system of Equal Temperament, and, in this way, it is emblematic of Latour’s definition of modernity. I further argue that the problem of the tuning of musical instruments is one which epitomizes the modern distinction between the natural and the social. In turn, this bears witness to what Whitehead calls the ‘bifurcation of nature’. Throughout this article, using the work of Stengers and Latour, I seek to use tuning as a case study which allows social research to talk both of the natural and of the social aspects of music and tuning, without recourse to essentialism or simple social construction. In this way, my argument seeks to avoid bifurcating nature.
“Young Durkheimians and the temptation of fascism: The case of Marcel Déat,” by Mathieu Hikaru Desan and Johan Heilbron. The abstract reads, Continue reading New HHS: Mark May at the Institute of Human Relations, Neurofeedback & Selfhood, & More!
AHP readers may be interested to know about the recently published book, The Psychology of Personhood: Philosophical, Historical, Social-Developmental, and Narrative Perspectives, edited by Jack Martin and Mark H. Bickhard.
As described by the book’s title, the included essays cover a range of aspects, and are meant to provide “both an introduction to the psychology of personhood, and an invitation to participate in it” (p. 16). Of particular interest to AHP readers is the “Historical Perspectives” section, including essays by Kurt Danziger, Jeff Sugarman, and James T. Lamiell. With topics from ‘critical personalism’, to ‘historical ontology’, to ‘identity and narrative’, this collection of essays will please historians, theorists, and those in between who have any interest in a psychology of persons that is neither fixated on traits nor statistical methods.
Now available on Amazon.
New Books in Science, Technology, and Society, part of the New Books Network, has released an audio interview with historian Gabriel Finkelstein on his recent book Emil du Bois-Reymond: Neuroscience, Self, and Society in Nineteenth-Century Germany. As described on the New Books in STS website,
Finkelstein considers how someone so famous and so important could end up so forgotten, and he does a masterful job in rectifying that situation. The book traces du Bois-Reymond’s life and work, from a childhood in Berlin, to an early life and schooling in Bonn, and then back to Berlin and beyond in the course of a mature career in laboratories and lecture halls. We meet the scientist as teacher, as writer, and as public and university intellectual, and follow his transformation from Romantic to Lucretian and his dual existence as simultaneously staunch individual and product of his class and culture. The chapters are beautifully written, and range from exploring diary pages and love letters to laboratory equipment, with stopovers to consider frog pistols and hopping dances of joy along the way. Whether du Bois-Reymond was accepting the advice of his friends (as offered above) or avoiding his underwear-proffering mother-in-law (of which you’ll hear more in the conversation), he emerges here as not just an important historical figure, but also a fascinating person who’s a joy to read about.
The full interview can be found online here.
Gabriel Finkelstein, Associate Professor of History at the University of Colorado Denver, has just published a volume on the life and work of nineteenth century physiologist Emil du Bois-Reymond. An important figure in uncovering the electrical nature of nerve activity, du Bois-Reymond is positioned by Finkelstein as central to the development of modern neuroscience. Emil du Bois-Remond: Neuroscience, Self, and Society in Nineteenth-Century Germany is described on the publisher’s website as follows,
Emil du Bois-Reymond is the most important forgotten intellectual of the nineteenth century. In his own time (1818–1896) du Bois-Reymond grew famous in his native Germany and beyond for his groundbreaking research in neuroscience and his provocative addresses on politics and culture. This biography by Gabriel Finkelstein draws on personal papers, published writings, and contemporary responses to tell the story of a major scientific figure. Du Bois-Reymond’s discovery of the electrical transmission of nerve signals, his innovations in laboratory instrumentation, and his reductionist methodology all helped lay the foundations of modern neuroscience.
In addition to describing the pioneering experiments that earned du Bois-Reymond a seat in the Prussian Academy of Sciences and a professorship at the University of Berlin, Finkelstein recounts du Bois-Reymond’s family origins, private life, public service, and lasting influence. Du Bois-Reymond’s public lectures made him a celebrity. In talks that touched on science, philosophy, history, and literature, he introduced Darwin to German students (triggering two days of debate in the Prussian parliament); asked, on the eve of the Franco-Prussian War, whether France had forfeited its right to exist; and proclaimed the mystery of consciousness, heralding the age of doubt. The first modern biography of du Bois-Reymond in any language, this book recovers an important chapter in the history of science, the history of ideas, and the history of Germany.
The October issue of History of the Human Sciences has just been released online. The issue features articles on the self, addiction neuropolitics, and an interesting section on why we should read histories of science initiated by Steve Fuller (left), which is followed by several commentaries and a response from Fuller. Article authors, titles, and abstracts follow below.
Oscar Moro Abadía and Francisco Pelayo:” Reflections on the concept of ‘precursor’: Juan de Vilanova and the discovery of Altamira”. The abstract reads:
Considering the case of Juan de Vilanova y Piera, often celebrated as the first scientist to accept the prehistoric antiquity of palaeolithic paintings, we explore some of the problems related to the concept of ‘precursor’ in the field of the history of science. In the first section, we propose a brief history of this notion focusing on those authors who have reflected critically on the meaning of predecessors. In the second section, the example of Vilanova illustrates the ways in which historians of science have created precursors. From the vantage of modern science, precursors have traditionally been defined as those who first indicated or announced ideas or theories later accepted by the scientific community. As a result, they have been represented as ‘heroes’ struggling hard to defeat the ignorance of their time. Continue reading New Issue: History of the Human Sciences