A new issue of History of Psychiatry is now available online and contains the following articles:
The morbidity and mortality linked to melancholia: two cohorts compared, 1875–1924 and 1995–2005 (Margaret Harris, Fiona Farquhar, David Healy, Joanna C Le Noury, Stefanie C Linden, J Andrew Hughes, and Anthony P Roberts)
For over a century, melancholia has been linked to increased rates of morbidity and mortality. Data from two epidemiologically complete cohorts of patients presenting to mental health services in North Wales (1874–1924 and 1995–2005) have been used to look at links between diagnoses of melancholia in the first period and severe hospitalized depressive disorders today and other illnesses, and to calculate mortality rates. This is a study of the hospitalized illness rather than the natural illness, and the relationship between illness and hospitalization remains poorly understood. These data confirm that melancholia is associated with a substantial increase in the standardized mortality rate both formerly and today, stemming from a higher rate of deaths from tuberculosis in the historical sample and from suicide in the contemporary sample. The data do not link melancholia to cancer or cardiac disease. The comparison between outcomes for melancholia historically and severe mood disorder today argue favourably for the effectiveness of asylum care.
Ergotism in Norway. Part 1: The symptoms and their interpretation from the late Iron Age to the seventeenth century (Torbjørn Alm and Brita Elvevåg)
Ergotism is a horrendous disease with grotesque symptoms caused by ingesting specific ergot alkaloids. Mass poisoning episodes are attributable to consumption of grain – usually rye – infected with the fungus Claviceps purpurea. By focusing on possible cases of ergotism, we re-examine Norwegian history from the sagas through to the end of the seventeenth century. Our review – not intended to be exhaustive, orex post facto to assign medical or psychiatric labels – draws attention to the very real possibility that many remarkable medical cases may have been the result of the ingestion of highly poisonous and psychoactive food substances. Where possible we highlight explanations given at the time – often rooted in religion or demonology – to explain the disease.
Revisiting mental hygiene: Josef Lundahl’s interpretation of modern psychiatry in Sweden at the beginning of the twentieth century (Katarina Piuva)
The concept of mental hygiene is historically intertwined with eugenics and what it meant both ideologically and for the care of the mentally ill. A closer investigation of the concept and of the historical context shows that different interpretations existed simultaneously. The aim of this essay is to highlight the literary and scientific works of a Swedish psychiatrist, Josef Lundahl, an advocate of the mental hygiene concept. A close reading of his texts is used to provide an example of how the concept of mental hygiene was understood by a psychiatrist and practitioner of mental hygiene. The practice of child-care and out-patient care that Lundahl founded in Visby is far from what we now associate with mental hygiene in the past.
Psychopathology beyond semiology. An essay on the inner workings of psychopathology (Carlos Rejón Altable and Dr Tom Dening)
This text develops three interwoven issues: first, a succinct comparative analysis of medical and psychiatric semiology, which proposes that the lack of referring relations between psychiatric symptoms and brain/psychic dysfunction is a fundamental distinction between medical and psychiatric semiology. Second, the multiple features of psychiatric semiology are reviewed. Third, a new approach to psychopathology is introduced, proposing three different ways to shape symptoms (perception, linguistic structure, praxis); highlighting its role as a cognitive activity that creates intelligibility from undifferentiated experiences; and distinguishing psychopathology and semiology on an activity/product relation basis.
William James and psychical research: towards a radical science of mind (Alexandre Sech Junior, Saulo de Freitas Araujo, and Alexander Moreira-Almeida)
Traditional textbooks on the history of psychiatry and psychology fail to recognize William James’s investigations on psychic phenomena as a legitimate effort to understand the human mind. The purpose of this paper is to offer evidence of his views regarding the exploration of those phenomena as well as the radical, yet alternative, solutions that James advanced to overcome theoretical and methodological hindrances. Through an analysis of his writings, it is argued that his psychological and philosophical works converge in psychical research revealing the outline of a science of mind capable of encompassing psychic phenomena as part of human experience and, therefore, subject to scientific scrutiny.
‘Paralysed with fears and worries’: neurasthenia as a gender-specific disease of civilization (Jessica Slijkhuis and Harry Oosterhuis)
Around 1900 neurasthenia received much attention in both the medical world and society at large. Based on professional publications by Dutch psychiatrists and neurologists and on patient records from the Rhijngeest sanatorium near Leiden in the Netherlands, this article addresses the meanings and interpretations of this nervous disorder as put forward by doctors and patients. We argue that their understanding of this disorder was determined not only by medical views, but also by social-cultural factors and prevailing gender norms.
Use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs during the heroic age of Antarctic exploration (HR Guly)
During the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, there was much discussion on the role of alcohol. The explorers expected to be able to consume alcohol, and the expeditions were supported by companies producing alcoholic beverages that used the Antarctic connection in their advertising. On the other side, it was said (incorrectly) than Fridjof Nansen, perhaps the most famous of the Arctic explorers, had taken no alcohol and this was used in the arguments against alcohol by the temperance movement. In general, alcohol consumption was low but it was felt that alcohol played an important role in maintaining the psychological welfare of the participants. A number of them had alcohol problems, and participation in an expedition was thought to be of benefit in that it would remove the temptation to consume alcohol. However, there were episodes of drunkenness on the ships and in the Antarctic. Cocaine was taken as one of a number of tonics but only one explorer is thought to have abused drugs, though another is said to have done so.
The issue also contains a number of book reviews and the classic text ‘On the Diseases of the Head’ in the Scale of Medicine by Muhammad Akbar Arzn [d. 1722] (presented by Neil Krishan Aggarwal)
For more information, click here.
Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Science, Medicine and Literature at the University of Oxford. The fellowship is for two years, starting in September or October 2013. The successful applicant will be based in either the Faculty of English Language and Literature, or the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, depending on the area of specialism. The proposed project may be in any area of science, medicine and literature studies, from the medieval period through to contemporary times, and in English or a European language (with a preference for French, Italian or German). Closing date March 12.
For further details see http://www.recruit.ox.ac.uk.
Renowned neuropsychiatrist Erik Kandel has a new book out called The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present (2012). The book description from Amazon reads:
A brilliant book by Nobel Prize winner Eric R. Kandel, The Age of Insight takes us to Vienna 1900, where leaders in science, medicine, and art began a revolution that changed forever how we think about the human mind—our conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions—and how mind and brain relate to art.
At the turn of the century, Vienna was the cultural capital of Europe. Artists and scientists met in glittering salons, where they freely exchanged ideas that led to revolutionary breakthroughs in psychology, brain science, literature, and art. Kandel takes us into the world of Vienna to trace, in rich and rewarding detail, the ideas and advances made then, and their enduring influence today.
The Vienna School of Medicine led the way with its realization that truth lies hidden beneath the surface. That principle infused Viennese culture and strongly influenced the other pioneers of Vienna 1900. Sigmund Freud shocked the world with his insights into how our everyday unconscious aggressive and erotic desires are repressed and disguised in symbols, dreams, and behavior. Arthur Schnitzler revealed women’s unconscious sexuality in his novels through his innovative use of the interior monologue. Gustav Klimt, Oscar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele created startlingly evocative and honest portraits that expressed unconscious lust, desire, anxiety, and the fear of death. Kandel tells the story of how these pioneers—Freud, Schnitzler, Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele—inspired by the Vienna School of Medicine, in turn influenced the founders of the Vienna School of Art History to ask pivotal questions such as What does the viewer bring to a work of art? How does the beholder respond to it? These questions prompted new and ongoing discoveries in psychology and brain biology, leading to revelations about how we see and perceive, how we think and feel, and how we respond to and create works of art. Kandel, one of the leading scientific thinkers of our time, places these five innovators in the context of today’s cutting-edge science and gives us a new understanding of the modernist art of Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele, as well as the school of thought of Freud and Schnitzler. Reinvigorating the intellectual enquiry that began in Vienna 1900, The Age of Insight is a wonderfully written, superbly researched, and beautifully illustrated book that also provides a foundation for future work in neuroscience and the humanities. It is an extraordinary book from an international leader in neuroscience and intellectual history.
Here is a BBC interview that was published today about the book.
Here is a recent audio clip where Kandel discusses it.
This talk will interrogate the role of technology in the manipulation of perceptions, mental processes, and psychological states, and will put into question the visibility of madness and the madness of visuality in graphic stereotypes, scientific classifications, theatrical spectacle, ritual performance, cinema and new media.
Professor Mitchell is Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago, and has been the editor of Critical Inquiry since 1978. (Link to CI blog.)
The keynote will be followed by a reception.