Tag Archives: surgery

“The Great Cat Mutilation: Sex, Social Movements and the Utilitarian Calculus in 1970s New York City”

Department of Animal Behavior -American Museum of Natural History, ca 1987: Gary Greenberg, Kathy Hood, Leo Vroman, Jay Rosenblatt, Tineke Vroman, Peter Gold, John Gianutsos, EthelTobach, with Lester Aronson at his desk.

Forthcoming in BJHS Themes, the new offshoot publication of the British Journal of the History of Science, is an article by Michael Pettit in which he describes the animal liberation movement’s focus on psychologist Lester Aronson’s experiments with cats at the American Museum of Natural History in the 1970s:

“The great cat mutilation: sex, social movements and the utilitarian calculus in 1970s New York City,” by Michael Pettit. The abstract reads,

In 1976, the animal liberation movement made experiments conducted on cats at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) one of its earliest successful targets. Although the scientific consensus was that Aronson was not particularly cruel or abusive, the AMNH was selected due to the visibility of the institution, the pet-like status of the animals, and the seeming perversity of studying non-human sexuality. I contextualize the controversy in terms of the changing meaning of utilitarian ethics in justifying animal experimentation. The redefinition of ‘surgeries’ as ‘mutilations’ reflected an encounter between the behavioural sciences and social movements. One of the aims of the late 1960s civil rights movements was to heighten Americans’ sensitivity to differing experiences of suffering. The AMNH protesters drew inspiration from a revived utilitarian ethics of universal organismic pain across the lines of species. This episode was also emblematic of the emergence of an anti-statist, neo-liberal ethos in science. Invoking the rhetoric of the 1970s tax revolt, animal liberationists attacked Aronson’s ability to conduct basic research with no immediate biomedical application. Without denying the violence involved, an exclusive focus on reading the experiments through the lens of utilitarianism obscures what ethics animated Aronson’s research.

New History of Medicine Website

The Science Museum, London launched a new website today called “Brought to Life.” The site provides a new history of medicine resource that includes 2,500 images from the Science Museum’s collection as well as descriptions of numerous individuals, technologies, objects, and themes from medicine’s history. According to the announcement made on the H-Net listserv for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology, the website is scheduled to receive another 4,000 images over the coming year.

Continue reading New History of Medicine Website

Ancient Greek neurosurgery

080312-ap-brain-picture_big.jpgVia the blog Neurophilosophy comes a story about a recent archaeological discovery of the skeleton of an Ancient Greek woman whose skull contains marks of neurosurgery.

The skeleton of the woman, believed to be roughly 25 years old at the time of her death, dates from the 3rd century A.D. and was found in Veria, a town in northern Greece. Site excavators have described that the woman had suffered a severe head trauma and was treated with brain surgery. For full details, see: news

Trepanation in the Flesh

Trepanned skullThe blog Neurophilosophy has an article on the history of trepanation, the surgical procedure in which a hole is cut in the skull of a person for any of a variety of medical and spiritual reasons. The operation has been used in a variety of cultures throughout history. The article covers a wide range — from ancient Greece to the modern International Trepanation Advocacy Group. A great deal of emphasis placed on the story of Ephraim George Squier, who discovered a trepanned native Peruvian skull in the 1860s and brought it to the attention first of the New York Academy of Medicine, and later of the prominent French physician Paul Broca. Broca, who founded the Anthropological Society in 1859, went on to develop an elaborate theory of the people who did the surgery. The article includes a number of fascinating historical illustrations. More fascinating still is a video clip from the 1998 film A Hole in the Head, in which a Kisi (Tanzanian) medicine man trepans a woman from the tribe in front of the camera.

And you thought hearts were the important organ on Valentine’s Day!

Tip o’ the hat to Mindhacks for alerting me to this material.

Audio and Video On Lobotomy

Howard Dully's lobotomyIn 1960, a 12-year-old boy named Howard Dully was lobotomized by Walter Freeman in order to “cure” bad behavior that was alleged by his step-mother. Astonishingly, no psychosis or other serious mental illness was present in Dully, or even alleged, just bad behavior. Dully was just one of 18,000 Americans who were lobotomized over a 20 year period beginning after World War II. Freeman performed more than 2,500 of those lobotomies himself. Some 45 years later, Dully decided to find out everything he could about the procedure in general, and about his operation in particular. Among other things, he found a photograph of his lobotomy being performed, which is linked here to the right. The result was a fascinating and moving radio program Continue reading Audio and Video On Lobotomy

PBS Documentary on Chief American Lobotomist

The PBS series “American Experience” will broadcast an episode about America’s leading lobotomist, Walter J. Freeman, on Monday, January 21 at 9:00 pm. After that, the show will be made available on-line.

Freeman developed the transorbital lobotomy (often called the “ice-pick” lobotomy) in the 1930s at George Washington University as a “cure” for many types mental illness. He then relentlessly promoted his procedure, which was inflicted on nearly 3,000 people up into the 1960s. Continue reading PBS Documentary on Chief American Lobotomist

Animation of 17th-Century Skull Surgery Tool

Elevatorium biploidum at Boerhaave MuseumA Dutch reader of the neuroscience blog Retrospectacle recently wrote in to say that he had created an animation of the use of a 17th-century surgical instrument called the Elevatorium biploidum. The instrument was used to raise an indented portion of the skull, as from the wound produced by the low-velocity guns of the day. (The instrument was not actually used for trepanation, as the Retrospectacle article says.) The was invented by the Hague surgeon Cornelis Solingen (1641-1687), and written up in his book, Manuale Operatien der Chirurgien (1684?). Continue reading Animation of 17th-Century Skull Surgery Tool

Trepanning Anyone?

trepanning braceYes, for the LOW LOW price of $1900, you can have your very own 19th-century trepanning brace by Aubry of Paris. This item is currently for sale on the website of Gilai Collectibles. According to the description:

19th Century Neurosurgery Trepanning Brace by Aubry of Paris. This is an unusual French iron trepan in the form of a brace with rotating a high quality ivory handle. The iron body partially retained its original nickel plating. Continue reading Trepanning Anyone?

Two new papers on Sherrington

The November issue of Brain includes two articles about Charles Sherrington that will be of particular interest to historians of neuroscience.

Related resources are provided below the jump.

  • Feindel, W.  (2007).  The physiologist and the neurosurgeon: the enduring influence of Charles Sherrington on the career of Wilder Penfield.  Brain, 130(11), 2758-2765.

Wilder Penfield, a Rhodes scholar from Princeton University, New Jersey, was a student in the first course on mammalian physiology given in 1915 at Oxford University by Charles Sherrington, newly arrived from Liverpool where, as Holt Professor of Physiology for 20 years, he had become a leading authority on the physiology of the nervous system. The practical ‘exercises’ as well as graduate research on the Golgi apparatus and the decerebrate preparation, carried out by Penfield in Sherrington’s laboratory, gave him the groundwork to develop his career as a physiological surgeon, who made fundamental observations on functional localization in the human brain during the surgical treatment of patients afflicted with epilepsy.