Archive for April, 2011

Capgras Syndrome

Psychiatric Times has posted a case description by Jeremy Matuszak and Matthew Parra (University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine) involving a 40 year-old woman apparently suffering from Capgras syndrome.  While not recognized in the DSM-IV-TR as a discrete diagnosis, Capgras syndrome refers to a “delusion (or fixed false belief) in which the affected individual believes that another person, generally a family member or close acquaintance, has been replaced by a look-alike imposter.” As Matuszak and Parra note, the syndrome was first described by Joseph Capgras and Jean Reboul-Lachaux in 1923 and has historically been interpreted from both neuropsychological and psychodynamic vantage points.

SCIENTIFICA Digital Library

by Claire Jullion

The Library for Science and Industry of The Centre for Science and Industry in Paris has undertaken the digitalization of a selection of its Old Books Collection.

This selection expands online materials in the field of psychology and psychiatry belonging to the library of Serge Wasersztrum, a private collection of 2000 volumes on psychiatry, madness, medical doctors, representations and theories of mental illnesses, the majority of which has been published in the 19th century.

128 holdings on the field of “Mental Hygiene, Social Hygiene” are currently available on Scientifica platform.

Through this selection on hygiene, it seemed important to us to restore the “hygienist movement of the 19th century” in its capacity to mobilize not only doctors, but also the administration, the legislation, the police forces, education, architecture, town planning.

Indeed, the very great diversity of forms and contents of publications witness this restoration.

Thus the selected corpus includes scientific books, medical dissertations, administrative reports for scientists and state authorities, as well as books on popular hygiene and handbooks for youth.

Three other corpora are also available in the following categories: “Phrenology” (18 documents), “The Theory of degeneration” (19 documents) and “Women and sexuality in the 19th century” (71 documents).

Scientifica prospectively announces “The Children’s Corner” scientific books and albums for children and “the Curiosity Cabinet” a representative anthology of the library’s diverse sources on science and technology.

Scientifica project has been accomplished by the Library for History of Sciences of the Centre for Science and Industry

 Claire Jullion is working for Scientifica

Conference Report – “Daniel Paul Schreber centenary – 200 years of Sonnenstein”

By Angela Woods

Daniel Paul Schreber centenary – 200 years of Sonnenstein: The Modern Experience and the Performance of Paranoia. A conference held at the Dresden Hygiene Museum and Gedenkstätte Pirna-Sonnenstein, Pirna, April 13 – 15 2011. Conceived and organised by Gal Hertz and Anton Pluschke.

“I feel called by Schreber to deliver a message. I’m just not sure what that message is.” And so in his opening remarks Gal Hertz captured a feeling that I am sure would be recognised by all readers of Memoirs of My Nervous Illness.

Daniel Paul Schreber, the world’s most quoted psychotic patient, is a familiar figure to historians of psychiatry and so no doubt to readers of this blog.  In 1893, soon after his appointment to the high office of Senatspräsident in Dresden, Schreber was admitted to Paul Flechsig’s clinic in Leipzig with psychotic symptoms, and was subsequently transferred to the Sonnenstein Asylum in Pirna. Memoirs of My Nervous Illness is Schreber’s account of his eight year incarceration; written while he was still a patient at Sonnenstein, it was a key document in his legal appeal to be recognised as fit to manage his own affairs, and was published shortly after his release in 1902.

After five relatively happy years at home, Schreber suffered another severe breakdown and was again admitted to an asylum where he died on April 14 1911. In the same year, Freud published his “Psycho-Analytical Notes” on the Schreber case and a century of scholarship on this most compelling of texts began.

What is the origin, logic and meaning of Schreber’s crisis? And what message does it have for us today? Memoirs recounts in detail Schreber’s experiences of divine persecution, soul murder, physical and psychic torment and transformation; it is his appeal to be believed, to be judged by the finest thinkers, the finest scientists, doctors and theologians of the day. It has since become an intellectual Rorschach test giving rise to seemingly inexhaustible multi-disciplinary analysis. To write and speak of Schreber is to explore the connections between textuality, fantasy, eroticism, psychosis, sex and language; to study law, psychiatry, education, religion; and even to penetrate the psychic secrets of solipsism, panopticism, capitalism and fascism.

It would be impossible, therefore, to summarise the proceedings of what is, to my knowledge, the first international conference on Daniel Paul Schreber.  Confident that the papers presented over the three days will find their way into print, if they haven’t already, I would like instead to venture a view on what made this conference such a memorable occasion.

Multi-lingual and multi-disciplinary; esteemed, established and early-career; our potentially disparate group of scholars and artists was fortunate to be grounded by two intellectual anchors: Zvi Lothane and Eric Santner.

Lothane, whose magisterial command over the historical detail of Schreber’s life has made him, in Santner’s phrase, “the de facto dean of contemporary Schreber studies,” was generous in his archival authority and ensured that in our collective intellectual enthusiasms we never lost sight of Schreber’s suffering as well as his pleasures, fantasies and achievements. Santner, the author of an equally magisterial monograph on Memoirs (My Own Private Germany: Daniel Screber’s Secret History of Modernity, elements of which are expanded upon in his forthcoming book The Royal Remains), focussed our attention not on the documentary detail of Schreber’s life but rather on its revelation of “secret histories” – histories of modernity, of psychoanalysis, of Germany. The warmth, wit and genuine curiosity of Santner and of Lothane helped to create an atmosphere in which intellectual differences could be explored without a sense of harm being done. Considering that a majority of Schreber’s (mostly male) commentators report feelings of intense admiration towards, attachment to and identification with the author of Memoirs, such collegiality seems an even greater achievement.

A second achievement, and one of many inspired decisions on the part of the organisers Gal Hertz and Anton Pluschke, was the inclusion of two artist interventions. Richard Crow, sound artist and co-founder of The Institution of Rot, gave us a preview of his Radio Schreber, Soliloquies for Schziophonic voices premiering at London’s Freud Museum. Eschewing language and sound, performance artist Frauke Frech explored Schreber’s world through the body and delimitations of space. Boundaries, body-shaped boxes and balancing were central features of an abstract work which urged us to resist our impulses to interpretation and to (over)analysis, to be present in an embodied moment of exchange rather than seduced by textual and psychoanalytic puzzles.

Bodies, our own and those who have come before us, could not be forgotten throughout this conference. For many it was our first visit to the scene of Memoirs, our first chance to see the buildings in which Daniel Paul Schreber was locked, bellowing and writing, in his communion with God. But the Sonnenstein’s most celebrated inmate is barely a footnote in the institution’s two-hundred year history.

No comparison can be drawn between the sublime suffering of one individual – a man who, even in his madness, remained a member of Germany’s elite – and the horrors that would be perpetrated in that institution in the years to come:

“In 1940 and 1941 the National Socialists murdered 13,720 people, most of them mentally ill or retarded persons, in the former Pirna-Sonnenstein sanatorium, an institution that had been renowned for its humanist tradition. These people were killed in a gas chamber as part of the National Socialist programme of medical murders code named ‘Action T4’. Over a thousand prisoners from National Socialist concentration camps also died at this site in the summer of 1941.” Pirna-Sonnenstein Memorial web site.


In a newly refurbished museum space next door to a still-functioning psychiatric clinic academics and artists convened to discuss Memoirs of My Nervous Illness; in the basement three flights below we visited a remembrance room and what remains of the original gas chamber and crematorium. Boris Böhm, director of the Pirna-Sonnenstein Memorial Site, and his colleague Julius Scharnetzky, on both days took us through the memorial spaces, the museum, and the grounds of the Sonnenstein, unfolding its history.

“Daniel Paul Schreber centenary – 200 years of Sonnenstein” : what is the link between the memoirs of one man, and the lives and deaths of so many thousands? Throughout the formal sessions, breaks and meals our discussion ebbed and flowed, weighted by the undertow of this question. 14,751 memorial crosses trace a path from the river Elbe to the Sonnenstein; it is simple, direct, final, and, as a living memorial, must be tended to continuously to prevent it from disappearing at the hands of the weather. Memoirs of My Nervous Illness is a node in a network with no such clarity of causal connection, but to an extent this desire to remember, to continue to make meaning from a crisis, to continue to respond to its message, is something we were all, as participants in this singular event, able to share.

You find the program of the conference here.

Angela Woods is a member of the School of Medicine and Health at Durham University and a lecturer in Medical Humanities at the Center for Medical Humanities. Her book “The Sublime Object of Psychiatry: Schizophrenia in Clinical and Cultural Theory,” is forthcoming in 2011 with Oxford University Press.

Article: The Musée de la folie

The most recent issue of the Journal of the History of Collections features an article by Allison Morehead – “The Musée de la folie: Collecting and exhibiting chez les fous” – reconsidering accepted wisdom about the Musée de la folie, which opened on the outskirts of Paris in 1905.

Abstract: The 1905 opening of Dr Auguste Marie’s Musée de la folie, at the Villejuif Asylum on the outskirts of Paris, has long been viewed as a key moment in the early history of the art of the insane. But surprisingly little is known about the museum and its collection. This article argues that the Musée de la folie was in fact a largely imaginary entity that intersected both with the asylum itself and with a planned Musée rétrospectif psychiatrique. Exploring the various discourses constructed through Marie’s collection and through similar collections and museum projects across Europe permits not only a critique of the teleological narrative usually told about the discovery of the art of the insane, but also provides a richer understanding of the psychiatric and popular contexts in which Marie’s heterogeneous collection, including the art works of his patients, was originally gathered, represented and consumed.

Article: Deporting Lunatic Migrants from Western Australia, 1924-1939

hist compass
The March 2011 issue of History Compass includes an article by Philippa Martyr dealing with the history of psychiatry. It is entitled  “Having a Clean Up? Deporting Lunatic Migrants from Western Australia, 1924-1939”.

The abstract reads:

Between 1924 and 1939, over 100 immigrants were deported from Western Australian mental hospitals. These deported ‘lunatics’ fell within the 3-year (and later 5-year) window between arrival and becoming ‘a charge on the state’. This meant that they could be deported by the Australian Commonwealth government under Section 8a of the amended Immigration Restriction Act. So who were these lunatic migrants? Were they already unwell and deliberately encouraged to migrate to Australia by unscrupulous foreign governments? Were they simply people for whom the pressures of life in an unfamiliar culture, in the middle of a global economic depression, became too much? By examining these deportees in more detail, and looking at factors such as their ethnic background and diagnosis, some underlying reasons as to why these individuals were targeted for deportation become apparent.

For more information, see

Book Review – Julia Barbara Köhne. Kriegshysteriker: Strategische Bilder and mediale Techniken militärpsychiatrischen Wissens (Husum, 2009)

By Juliet Wagner

Presented as both as an example of applied media studies and as a contribution to the history of German and Austrian “shell shock” during the First World War, Julia Köhne’s Kriegshysteriker: Strategische Bilder and mediale Techniken militärpsychiatrischen Wissens (Husum, Matthiesen Verlag: 2009) largely reinforces an older strain of historiography that emphasizes coercion as the primary mode of military psychiatry.[1] Köhne praises the more nuanced recent scholarship on the subject by Paul Lerner and Hans-Georg Hofer in her introduction and expresses some misgivings about the strident tone of classic accounts, but she does not integrate the subtleties of Hofer or Lerner’s detailed research into her evaluation.[2] The structural logic of the book—as well as Köhne’s recurring analysis—convey the argument that “war hysteria” was constructed by medical media in order to allow doctors to assert some control over disorderly, chaotic symptoms, using film in particular to great disciplinary effect. Köhne deliberately chooses the phrase “war hysteria” over the more neutral “war neurosis” on the grounds that the term hysteria better conveys the contemporary values and associations of these conditions, in particular the gendered dimension of the diagnosis.

It is through her discussion of the relevance of contemporary mass psychology to war hysteria, and in her detailed critique of the case study in all its forms, especially visual, that Köhne considers her contribution to be original and unique. As she indicates, no published scholarship has yet subjected the rich visual sources on this topic to sustained analysis. Alongside her interpretation of medical photographs and films depicting war hysteria, Köhne also subjects written media to stringent formal analysis, drawing attention to the patient file and the medical case study as genres in a way that is thoughtful and thought provoking and could serve as a useful model for medical historians. This type of careful, methodologically self-aware formal analysis that refuses to accept the meaning of any source as self-evident is a real strength of Köhne’s book.

The book is divided into two unequal parts: the first discusses war hysteria as a mass phenomenon, connecting the medical discourse on troubled soldiers during the war to that on crowd psychology in the late nineteenth century, while the second—much longer—part does the systematic work of examining the various medical media and their construction of the war hysteria diagnosis. Part II includes chapters on written sources and visual sources, as well as a final somewhat incongruous chapter on the marketing of electrical medical devices in the 1920s. Köhne concludes that the war was pivotal in creating the new category of (male) war hysteria and that the “media technologies” of military-psychiatric knowledge were central tools in the creation of the disease. Her argument builds structurally from a discussion of medical anxiety in the face of mass psychological disorder in Part I through analysis of complex and often contradictory written case studies, up to analysis of photographic and finally filmic depictions of war neurosis. Within the discussion of film, Köhne also proceeds from the two shorter German films towards the culminating example of Clovis Vincent’s 1916 film Le Progrès de la Science Française au Profit des Victimes de la Guerre. Une Grande Découverte du Docteur “Vincent”. Vincent’s film most neatly fits her argument about film as a medium of control and an analogy to the new war hysteria diagnosis itself, in which the condition was teleologically defined by the cure the psychiatrist would inevitably enact. Curability was proof of both the hysterical nature of the symptoms and an opportunity to demonstrate the success of medical intervention. The de facto function of the closing chapter on electrical devices is to reinforce the message of psychiatric coercion and Foucauldian discipline.

If Köhne’s discussion in Part II can be heavy on overly detailed methodological excursuses, the insights she offers justify her careful attention to form. One compelling example is her exposition of the genesis of a medical patient file or a case study, the many layers and multiple authors of which combine to create a picture of a condition that is often composite and contradictory, as Köhne demonstrates. Her discussion of medical film is somewhat more problematic, however. While her perceptive formal analysis continues in this chapter and the essential characterization of especially Vincent’s film as an exercise in asserting control and establishing prestige is convincing, the neatness she ascribes to war hysteria film as a genre is somewhat artificial. Not only does she neglect films—in particular multiple French examples—that do not conform to the model she describes, but she also neglects cases within the five included films that complicate her argument, for example the case of Private Preston in the British film War Neuroses, whose cure is not shown or even referenced. If the sole function of the film is to demonstrate the doctors’ capacity to restore their patients to fighting (or working) form, why include a case study like Preston’s that fails to demonstrate such a transformation, and instead shows him cowering beneath a hospital bed in response to the word “bombs”? That said, although she overemphasizes the novelty of the “before and after” format (which is far from unprecedented, at least in psychiatric photography, as Köhne notes herself in her photography chapter), Köhne is accurate in her contention that these films represent the first clear examples of narrative psychiatric films depicting medical intervention, rather than simply a display of symptoms.[3]

A more serious shortcoming from a historian’s perspective, Köhne’s analysis of War Neuroses and of Vincent’s film is further undermined by a very meager selection of accompanying written sources from either Britain or France, leading her to make conjectures about the films that are sometimes false. Köhne also moves too freely between analysis of the French and British films and contemporary German-language sources (the Bavarian army regulations on the wearing of uniforms by disabled patients do not offer much historical insight on the choice to include uniforms in a British film, for example.) For this reason, the book is strongest on the German material, but even here Köhne’s analysis of the two surviving German films could draw more effectively on both contemporary sources and on existing scholarship. Those interested in the Hamburg neurologist Max Nonne and his hypnosis film, for example, will find more of interest—and more exhaustive research—in Paul Lerner’s work. Like many early historians of “shell shock,” Köhne overplays the importance of suggestive treatments based on the application of electricity and often inserts them speculatively into the films (as scenes she supposes were removed in editing or not filmed) where publications in the medical press by their doctor-director state the relative insignificance of such methods in their approach. Köhne’s observation that the frustration expressed by early doctor-filmmakers about the technological limits of the medium to depict their patients’ trembling parallels the frustration evident in their attempts to contain the trembling itself is perceptive, but trembling was only one of a multitude of symptoms from which war neurotics suffered.

In summary, although her formal analysis of written and visual case studies is consistently insightful and instructive, Köhne’s commitment to a Foucauldian approach results in a rather narrow interpretation of the visual material that partially revives certain myths generated by psychoanalytic historiography, without the evidence to fully support those claims. Formal analysis of media can genuinely enrich historical writing, but there are limits to its validity when it is not informed by detailed contextual research. Although it is one very important function of war neurosis films, Köhne’s presentation of these films exclusively as a tool of control has the consequence that she misses the substantial resonances that existed between the discourse surrounding war neurosis as a mass phenomenon and the contemporary discourse on cinema, which was also viewed as a potentially dangerous vector of suggestion. Film was not simply a technological innovation employed by doctors and scientists, but was widely applied in the sphere of entertainment, a significant context that Köhne does not address sufficiently. She is right that film was an important and allusive medium used by doctors to construct an understanding of war neurosis, but it was not merely an attempt to exert control. Instead, film played a fascinating and complex role as a medium of persuasion, extending the charismatic power of the doctor-director to nationally distinct medical and public audiences, employing not only discipline but occasionally spectacle and empathy too.

Juliet Wagner is lecturer in History and Literature, Harvard University. She is currently working on revising for publication her Ph.D. dissertation “Twisted Bodies, Broken Minds: Film and Neuropsychiatry in the First World War” (Harvard University, 2009).

[1] Eric Leed, No Man’s Land: Combat and Identity in World War 1 (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press 1979); Peter Riedesser und Axel Verderber, Aufrüstung der Seelen: Militärpsychiatrie und Militärpsychologie in Deutschland und Amerika (Freiburg i. Br.: Dreisam-Verlag, 1985); Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830-1980 (London: Virago, 1987)

[2] Paul Lerner, Hysterical Men: war, psychiatry and the politics of trauma in Germany, 1890-1930 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2003); Hans-Georg Hofer, Nervenschwäche und Krieg: Modernitätskritik und Krisenbewältigung in der österreichischen Psychiatrie (1880-1920) (Wien: Bohlau, 2004).

[3] The “before and after” format is also evident in less codified form in Camillo Negro’s Neuropatalogia (1908), in which the shift from documentation of symptoms to narrative of medical intervention was already beginning to take place. See Ute Holl, “Neuropathologie als filmische Inszenierung” in Martina Heßler (ed), Konstruierte Sichtbarkeiten Wissenschafts- und Technikbilder seit der frühen Neuzeit (München, 2006), pp. 217-240

New issue – History of the Human Sciences

hist human sciences

The April issue of History of the Human Sciences is now out and includes the following articles:

“Crackpots and basket-cases: a history of therapeutic work and occupation” (Jennifer Laws)

The abstract reads:

Despite the long history of beliefs about the therapeutic properties of work for people with mental ill health, rarely has therapeutic work itself been a focus for historical analysis. In this article, the development of a therapeutic work ethic (1813—1979) is presented, drawing particular attention to the changing character and quality of beliefs about therapeutic work throughout time. From hospital factories to radical ‘antipsychiatric’ communities, the article reveals the myriad forms of activities that have variously been considered fit work for people with mental health problems. While popular stereotypes of basket-weaving paint a hapless portrait of institutional work, a more nuanced reading of therapeutic work and its political and philosophical commitments is advanced. The article concludes by arguing that the non-linear and inherently contested development of therapeutic work is less the effect of paradigmatic shifts within the therapeutic professions, but rather evidence of a broader human struggle with work.

“‘The dangers of this atmosphere’: a Quaker connection in the Tavistock Clinic’s development” (Sebastian Kraemer)

The abstract reads:

During the Second World War, through innovations in officer selection and group therapy, the army psychiatrists John Rickman and Wilfred Bion changed our understanding of leadership. They showed how soldiers under stress could develop real authority through their attentiveness to each other. From contrasting experiences 25 years earlier each had seen how people in groups are moved by elemental forces that undermine judgement and thought. This article arose from my experiences as a trainee at the Tavistock Clinic, where the method of reflective work discussion, giving individuals seated in a circle the choice to speak or to remain silent, seemed similar to a Quaker meeting. Many decades later I found that this association had a basis in fact. Among other influences on Bion — a childhood in India, distinguished service in the First World War, and a surgical apprenticeship with Wilfred Trotter — there is a little-acknowledged Quaker source, in John Rickman, for Bion’s radical work in the army that led to new methods of training and organizational consultancy in the postwar Tavistock.

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

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