New issue – Medical History

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Medical History published its new issue which includes some articles that could be of interest to H-Madness readers.

Jonathan Toms, Citizenship and Learning Disabled People: The Mental Health Charity MIND’s 1970s Campaign in Historical Context

Current policy and practice directed towards people with learning disabilities originates in the deinstitutionalisation processes, civil rights concerns and integrationist philosophies of the 1970s and 1980s. However, historians know little about the specific contexts within which these were mobilised. Although it is rarely acknowledged in the secondary literature, MIND was prominent in campaigning for rights-based services for learning disabled people during this time. This article sets MIND’s campaign within the wider historical context of the organisation’s origins as a main institution of the inter-war mental hygiene movement. The article begins by outlining the mental hygiene movement’s original conceptualisation of ‘mental deficiency’ as the antithesis of the self-sustaining and responsible individuals that it considered the basis of citizenship and mental health. It then traces how this equation became unravelled, in part by the altered conditions under the post-war Welfare State, in part by the mental hygiene movement’s own theorising. The final section describes the reconceptualisation of citizenship that eventually emerged with the collapse of the mental hygiene movement and the emergence of MIND. It shows that representations of MIND’s rights-based campaigning (which have, in any case, focused on mental illness) as individualist, and fundamentally opposed to medicine and psychiatry, are inaccurate. In fact, MIND sought a comprehensive community-based service, integrated with the general health and welfare services and oriented around a reconstruction of learning disabled people’s citizenship rights.


Duncan Wilson, Calculable People? Standardising Assessment Guidelines for Alzheimer’s Disease in 1980s Britain

This article shows how funding research on Alzheimer’s disease became a priority for the British Medical Research Council (MRC) in the late 1970s and 1980s, thanks to work that isolated new pathological and biochemical markers and showed that the disease affected a significant proportion of the elderly population. In contrast to histories that focus on the emergence of new and competing theories of disease causation in this period, I argue that concerns over the use of different assessment methods ensured the MRC’s immediate priority was standardising the ways in which researchers identified and recorded symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in potential research subjects. I detail how the rationale behind the development of standard assessment guidelines was less about arriving at a firm diagnosis and more about facilitating research by generating data that could be easily compared across the disciplines and sites that constitute modern biomedicine. Drawing on criticism of specific tests in the MRC’s guidelines, which some psychiatrists argued were ‘middle class biased’, I also show that debates over standardisation did not simply reflect concerns specific to the fields or areas of research that the MRC sought to govern. Questions about the validity of standard assessment guidelines for Alzheimer’s disease embodied broader concerns about education and social class, which ensured that distinguishing normal from pathological in old age remained a contested and historically contingent process.

Michal Shapira, Speaking Kleinian’: Susan Isaacs as Ursula Wise and the Inter-War Popularisation of Psychoanalysis

How did the complex concepts of psychoanalysis become popular in early twentieth-century Britain? This article examines the contribution of educator and psychoanalyst Susan Isaacs (1885–1948) to this process, as well as her role as a female expert in the intellectual and medical history of this period. Isaacs was one of the most influential British psychologists of the inter-war era, yet historical research on her work is still limited. The article focuses on her writing as ‘Ursula Wise’, answering the questions of parents and nursery nurses in the popular journal Nursery World, from 1929 to 1936. Researched in depth for the first time, Isaacs’ important magazine columns reveal that her writing was instrumental in disseminating the work of psychoanalyst Melanie Klein in Britain. Moreover, Isaacs’ powerful rebuttals to behaviourist, disciplinarian parenting methods helped shift the focus of caregivers to the child’s perspective, encouraging them to acknowledge children as independent subjects and future democratic citizens. Like other early psychoanalysts, Isaacs was not an elitist; she was in fact committed to disseminating her ideas as broadly as possible. Isaacs taught British parents and child caregivers to ‘speak Kleinian’, translating Klein’s intellectual ideas into ordinary language and thus enabling their swift integration into popular discourse.

 

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