Seminar Series – History of Psychiatry and Psychology

The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine in collaboration with the Centre for the History of Psychology of the British Psychological Society have put together part of the Spring program for their joint seminar series on the History of Psychiatry and Psychology:

23 February 2011

Dr. Suzanne Gieser, “The Pioneers of Psychotherapy in Sweden”

2 March 2011

Professor Michael Hagner, “What is Dippoldism? Sex, Crime and Education in Germany Circa 1900″

The seminars take place at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL, 5th Floor Lecture Room, The Wellcome Building, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE on Wednesdays, 5.30pm-7.00pm preceded by refreshments at 5.15pm.

Additional information can be found at

Damaging the Body Seminar Series

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The Wellcome Trust for the History of Medicine at UCL in conjunction with the University of the West of England

This seminar series will build on material presented at the September 2010 Damaging the Body workshop, generating a new historiographical field pertaining to physical damage to the body in Victorian and twentieth century psychiatry. Whether as treatment or symptom of illness, the problematic discourse of the Victorian body extended well beyond the asylum, incorporating elements as diverse as the functional “self-mutilation” of hysteria (as Roy Porter has termed it), the physical effects of alcohol, opiates or syphilis and the relationship between tattooing and criminality. Moreover, in the later decades of the century, suicide, insanity and crime became strongly connected, throughout Europe and North America, to discourses on the physical and mental degeneration of the race. This complicated and often contradictory dialogue has not been simplified subsequently; the late twentieth century in particular has seen so-called “epidemics” of suicide, self-harm, binge-drinking and anorexia nervosa, repeatedly represented by the media as the all-but inescapable perils of modern society. Discourses on the damaged body thus continue to strongly influence our perceptions of ourselves, our ideas of gender, and of the relationship between the body and the mind. Through a variety of disciplines, including history, sociology, history of art, gender studies and literature, this seminar series will explore discrete elements of bodily damage in the last century and a half, opening up wider historical, sociological and psychological concerns.

Speakers will speak for 40 – 50 minutes on a topic, followed by a similar period for questions.

Monday 17th January
An Vleugels
Hurting Bodies and Mind: Alcohol in Belgium 1848-1914

Tuesday 8th February
Chris Millard
Attempted Suicide and British Psychiatric Research: Registers of Space and Knowledge Production

Monday 21st February
Ivan Crozier
Culture-Bound Syndromes, Koro and the Emergence of ‘Cosmopolitan’ Psychiatry

Monday 14th March
David Haslam
Imperfect Bodies?: Clinical and Sociological Perspectives on Obesity

Monday 9th May
Gemma Angel
Title tbc.

Tuesday 31st May
Sander Gilman
Title tbc.

Registration for this event is not required.

Admission from 5.45pm – 6.15pm

More information can be found at

Cfp – Mastering the Emotions: Control, Contagion and Chaos, 1800 to the Present Day

CALL FOR PAPERS – DEADLINE 14th February 2011

Mastering the Emotions: Control, Contagion and Chaos, 1800 to the Present Day

16th-17th June 2011, Queen Mary, University of London

* Keynote Speakers *

Sally Shuttleworth, St Anne’s College, Oxford University, UK

Allan Young, McGill University, Montreal, Canada


What does it mean to master one’s emotions?

Since the modern category of ‘the emotions’ emerged in the early decades of the nineteenth century, much medical knowledge about and scientific research into this elusive phenomenon has been concerned with its potentially involuntary nature, and with the ability and inability of humans to exert control over their emotions.

From the nineteenth century?s preoccupation with the nature of impulse and involuntary expression, to our own concerns about emotional literacy and regulation, the problem of constricting emotions, and producing them on demand,has troubled psychologists,physicians, philosophers, scientists, writers and artists alike.

Constructed as both irrational, yet within the bounds of rational control, separate from,yet the product of bodily processes, ‘the emotions’ have historically proved a key site of medical and cultural debate. At the same time, the exercise of too much control has also been pathologised, and both theatricalised and repressed emotions have historically called into question prevailing notions of ‘authenticity’ and emotional truth.

Papers are invited which explore the management, control or manipulation of the emotions between 1800 and the present day. Possible themes might include, but are not limited to:

– Pathologisation (e.g. of absence and excess of emotion, emotional impulses)

– Regulation (e.g. medical or psychological intervention, medically directed self-regulation, emotions and public policy)

– Manipulation and Performativity (e.g. theatre, malingering)

– Trauma and Repression (e.g. emotion and the subconscious, emotional release as therapeutic, the production of emotional states through drugs and hypnosis)

Please send abstract proposals of 300 words, or panel proposals (2 or 4 abstracts, and a panel rationale of 300 words) by email to Tiffany Watt-Smith by 14th February 2011. All speakers will be notified by 28th February 2011.

We hope to offer a small number of bursaries for international and UK postgraduate delegates covering registration, travel and accommodation. Students who wish to apply for bursaries should contact Tiffany Watt-Smith for more information.

New issue – Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences


jhbsThe Winter issue of JHBS is out and includes the following two articles related to the history of psychiatry:

The great escape: World War II, neo-Freudianism, and the origins of U.S. psychocultural analysis by Edward J. K. Gitre. The abstract reads:

Psychocultural analysis stands as a signal accomplishment of the 1930s U.S. assimilation of European refugee-intellectuals. Scholars in the U.S. had been moving toward a kind of psychocultural analysis well in advance of the Great Migration—the U.S. was not an intellectual vacuum or wasteland—nevertheless, it was through their interdisciplinary collaboration, fueled by the specter of war, that these international peers stimulated one of the most wide-ranging, dynamic, and productive exchanges of ideas of the century. Through the lens of Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom, this article explores psychoculturalism’s emergence in the interstices between cultures, nations, ideas, and disciplines—between Europeans and Americans, psychoanalysts and social scientists.

The end of drugging children: Toward the genealogy of the ADHD subject by Edward J. Comstock

This genealogy of the ADHD subject will demonstrate that over the course of the twentieth century a new relation between power, knowledge, the body, and ethical practices of self-formation emerged around the ADHD-type in ways that are not captured by the received critical perspective. By examining the history of knowledge and practices surrounding the ADHD-type, this work will argue that the deviant subject that was located relative to external institutional moral/juridical values or standards is replaced over the course of the century by a new intelligibility of rational self-management. A further analysis of this emergent intelligibility attempts to advance the critical understanding of the increasingly prevalent ADHD phenomenon by showing how novel drug and brain imaging technologies work to link behaviors to identity, establishing new relations of power to the subject not captured by the received medicalization perspective. This work will be of interest to anybody interested in the relations among knowledge, drugs, power, and the ADHD subject.

More information, as well as a complete table of contents, can be found here.

New issue – Journal of the History of the Neurosciences

jhnA new issue of JHN is out and includes the following articles:

An Approach to Nineteenth-Century Medical Lexicon: The Term “Dreamy State” by Esther Lardreau. The abstract reads:

Hughlings-Jackson coined the concept of dreamy state: According to him, one of the sensations of a “dreamy state” was an odd feeling of recognition and familiarity, often called “déjà vu”. A clear sense of strangeness could also be experienced in the “dreamy state” (“jamais vu”). Jackson himself did not use these French terms, but he was quite clear about the vivid feelings of strangeness and familiarity, which can occur in both normal and pathological conditions.In order to explore some of the exchanges between medical and nonmedical vocabularies, we examine the historical origins of this technical concept. By basing the study on European (medical and nonmedical) literature of the nineteenth century, we review the first descriptions of this state and compare them with the famous Hughlings-Jackson definitions.

It appears that this medical concept was partly borrowed from a wide cultural background before being rationally developed and reworked in the fields of neurology and psychiatry.

Psychic Blindness or Visual Agnosia: Early Descriptions of a Nervous Disorder by Christian Baumann. The abstract reads:

This article briefly reports on three early contributions to the understanding of visual agnosia as a syndrome sui generis. The authors of the respective papers worked in different fields such as physiology, ophthalmology, and neurology, and, although they were not in direct contact with each other, their results converged upon a consistent view of a nervous disorder that they called psychic blindness.

The Disease of the Moon: The Linguistic and Pathological Evolution of the English Term “Lunatic” by M. A. Riva; L. Tremolizzo; M. Spicci; C. Ferrarese; G. De Vito; G. C. Cesana and V. A. Sironi. The abstract reads:

The public opinion and the scientific community incorrectly believe that the English term “lunatic” was originally related only to insanity, but it also referred to epileptic people. The aim of this article is to clarify the original meaning of the English word “lunatic” by analyzing the evolution of the relationship between psychiatric and neurological diseases and by pointing out the influence of the moon in the history of medicine, in popular traditions, and in English literature. The article also contains a detailed and accurate review of the modern scientific literature on the relationship between moon and epilepsy/psychiatric disorders.
More information, as well as a complete table of contents, can be found here.

Review – Joost Vijselaar, Het gesticht

Le livre de Joost Vijselaar, professeur d’histoire de psychiatrie à l’université d’Utrecht, est issu d’un plus large projet de recherche plus large relatif à l’histoire de la psychiatrie au Pays-Bas, projet de recherche mené par Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra et Harry Oosterhuis. Plusieurs autres ouvrages sont nés de ce projet dont une synthèse sur le sujet et une étude sur la professionnalisation des psychiatres hollandais, alors que celui-ci se focalise sur l’histoire des patients. Depuis l’article séminal de Roy Porter sur cette thématique, publié en 1985 et intitulé ‘The patient’s view’, l’historiographie internationale commence à produire un corpus d’études conséquent sans cependant provoquer une révolution copernicienne dans l’écriture de l’histoire de la médecine, toujours largement dominée par les médecins et leurs découvertes scientifiques. Vu la multiplicité des sujets qu’offre une histoire de cette discipline appréhendée à travers les patients, Joost Vijselaar a décidé de se concentrer sur une problématique en particulier: l’entrée et la sortie des patients. En se basant sur un échantillon de dossiers médicaux de trois institutions psychiatriques des Pays-Bas, l’auteur retrace avec beaucoup de détails les conditions sociales et médicales qui conduisent le plus souvent la famille à faire appel à une institution psychiatrique. L’entrée à l’asile proprement dite est ensuite décrite en examinant aussi bien des critères de classe que de genre et de génération. Après un chapitre sur les traitements qui sort un peu de la trame du reste du livre mais qui est d’actualité, Vijselaar accompagne alors les patients sur le chemin inverse, vers la sortie de l’institution psychiatrique. L’auteur bascule habilement entre étude quantitative et qualitative. Il démontre le rôle central des asiles dans la gestion sociale de populations marginalisées. Il convainc également par son plaidoyer de tenir davantage compte d’autres acteurs comme la famille ou la police pour comprendre la psychiatrie. Het gesticht est une étude d’histoire sociale convaincante sur l’histoire des patients en psychiatrie dans le premier vingtième siècle. Trois choix de l’auteur invitent néanmoins à discussion. Le premier, ce sont les frontières chronologiques. L’auteur commence son étude vers 1890, à un moment où le modèle asilaire se stabilise dans la plupart des pays européens. Il clôt son récit en 1950, arguant que l’introduction des neuroleptiques, le changement de la nature des patients et l’ouverture vers une psychiatrie moins fermée constitue une véritable rupture. Cette apparente cassure n’est cependant pas étudiée, mais simplement postulée. Ce récit proposé par les psychiatres commence à être réinterrogé de plus en plus sérieusement par les historiens. L’expérience des patients auraient pu éclairer davantage la discussion. Deuxièmement, dans un livre qui retrace l’histoire de tels patients, j’aurai aimé lire davantage la parole de ces « reclus ». Or leur histoire est essentiellement racontée à travers les écrits des médecins. Certes travailler avec les lettres, dessins, histoires rédigés par les patients pose de nombreux écueils méthodologiques, mais si on ne veut pas doubler l’enfermement asilaire par un enfermement historiographique, il faut trouver des moyens d’intégrer les narrations de leur vécu dans l’histoire de la psychiatrie. Troisièmement, l’auteur a choisi l’échelle locale comme angle d’approche et je partage avec lui la conviction que ce regard est particulièrement riche. Mais je pense également que cette méthode n’a de sens que lorsque l’auteur, à un moment ou un autre de son écriture, pratique ce que Jacques Revel a appelé le « jeux d’échelles » et se frotte notamment aux grands récits qui sont légion et souvent contradictoires pour l’histoire de la psychiatrie.

Benoît Majerus

Joost Vijselaar, Het gesticht. Enkele reis of retour, Amsterdam, Boom, 2010.

Ce compte-rendu a également été publié dans studium 3 (3), 2010, p. 64.

A Discussion about the Insanity Defense in the U.S.

In the wake of the recent shooting of a congresswoman in Arizona, The New York Times this week published an interesting discussion about the insanity defense in the United States.  The piece features comments from prominent legal scholars and psychiatrists.

There has been much speculation that the lawyers for Jared Loughner, who has been charged in the Tucson shootings, may mount an insanity defense. Since John Hinckley Jr. was acquitted of trying to kill President Reagan, the use of the insanity defense has become very restricted in federal cases. Arizona, along with several other states, no longer allows a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity.

In the three decades since the Hinckley case, brain research and brain scans have made many advances in diagnosing and categorizing mental illness. Yet this seems to have little bearing on how society deals with insanity and culpability in the legal arena.

What has been learned in the decades since the Hinckley case? Should a better medical understanding of mental illness alter our legal definitions of insanity? Or is the insanity defense rooted in principles or traditions that actually don’t have much to do with medicine?

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