Book announcement – Law and the Modern Mind Consciousness and Responsibility in American Legal Culture

9780674048935-lgSusanna L. Blumenthal, Professor of Law and Associate Professor of History at the University of Minnesota, has published a book on “the jurisprudence of insanity” across the long nineteenth century in the United States. The blurb reads:

In postrevolutionary America, the autonomous individual was both the linchpin of a young nation and a threat to the founders’ vision of ordered liberty. Conceiving of self-government as a psychological as well as a political project, jurists built a republic of laws upon the Enlightenment science of the mind with the aim of producing a responsible citizenry. Susanna Blumenthal probes the assumptions and consequences of this undertaking, revealing how ideas about consciousness, agency, and accountability have shaped American jurisprudence.

Focusing on everyday adjudication, Blumenthal shows that mental soundness was routinely disputed in civil as well as criminal cases. Litigants presented conflicting religious, philosophical, and medical understandings of the self, intensifying fears of a populace maddened by too much liberty. Judges struggled to reconcile common sense notions of rationality with novel scientific concepts that suggested deviant behavior might result from disease rather than conscious choice. Determining the threshold of competence was especially vexing in litigation among family members that raised profound questions about the interconnections between love and consent. This body of law coalesced into a jurisprudence of insanity, which also illuminates the position of those to whom the insane were compared, particularly children, married women, and slaves. Over time, the liberties of the eccentric expanded as jurists came to recognize the diversity of beliefs held by otherwise reasonable persons.

In calling attention to the problematic relationship between consciousness and liability, Law and the Modern Mind casts new light on the meanings of freedom in the formative era of American law.

To get more information, click here.

BBC video feature: Uncovering the history of madness

bedlam-main-imageUncovering the history of madness

London’s Wellcome Collection brought together various artists to create the exhibition, ‘Bedlam: the asylum & beyond‘. It tackles the rise and fall of mental asylums, and looks at how mental illness is handled now. David Beales is one of the artists taking part. He uses his first-hand experiences of living in psychiatric hospitals to create art and raise awareness around mental health issues. He told the BBC’s Dan Damon about his experiences.

To access the video interview, click here.

Book announcement – Freud by Elisabeth Roudinesco

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The French Freud biography by Elisabeth Roudinesco has now be translated and published by Harvard University Press. The blurb reads

Élisabeth Roudinesco offers a bold and modern reinterpretation of the iconic founder of psychoanalysis. Based on new archival sources, this is Freud’s biography for the twenty-first century—a critical appraisal, at once sympathetic and impartial, of a genius greatly admired and yet greatly misunderstood in his own time and in ours.

Roudinesco traces Freud’s life from his upbringing as the eldest of eight siblings in a prosperous Jewish-Austrian household to his final days in London, a refugee of the Nazis’ annexation of his homeland. She recreates the milieu of fin de siècle Vienna in the waning days of the Habsburg Empire—an era of extraordinary artistic innovation, given luster by such luminaries as Gustav Klimt, Stefan Zweig, and Gustav Mahler. In the midst of it all, at the modest residence of Berggasse 19, Freud pursued his clinical investigation of nervous disorders, blazing a path into the unplumbed recesses of human consciousness and desire.

Yet this revolutionary who was overthrowing cherished notions of human rationality and sexuality was, in his politics and personal habits, in many ways conservative, Roudinesco shows. In his chauvinistic attitudes toward women, and in his stubborn refusal to acknowledge the growing threat of Hitler until it was nearly too late, even the analytically-minded Freud had his blind spots. Alert to his intellectual complexity—the numerous tensions in his character and thought that remained unresolved—Roudinesco ultimately views Freud less as a scientific thinker than as the master interpreter of civilization and culture.

For more information, click here.

New Issue – Bulletin of the History of Medicine

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The fourth 2016 issue of Bulletin of the History of Medicine is now out and includes at least one article that may be of interest to H-Madness readers.

“The Weight of Perhaps Ten or a Dozen Human Lives”: Suicide, Accountability, and the Life-Saving Technologies of the Asylum by Kathleen M. Brian
By accounting for the law’s productive capacity to structure asylum physicians’ encounters with suicide, this essay argues that the antebellum asylum was a technology for the preservation of life. The essay first shows how suicide’s history as a crime encouraged popular attributions of suicide to insanity. What began as a tactic to protect survivors, however, ended by bolstering the professional claims of asylum medicine. Initially it appeared there was much to gain from claiming suicide as their own, but dominion over prevention in fact rendered asylum physicians and their staffs vulnerable in unanticipated ways: for while agents of suicide were effectively evacuated of legal responsibility, a variety of laws made physicians more accountable than ever. Focusing on medical superintendent Amariah Brigham and his staff at the New York State Lunatic Asylum shows how the anxiety of assuming guardianship over the suicidal created networks of accountability that profoundly affected daily life.

 

Conference Report – “Languages of Trauma – Body/Psyche, Historiography, Traumatology, Visual Media”

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Conference Report by Jason Crouthamel

On November 25-26, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin hosted the conference, “Languages of Trauma,” sponsored by the Institut für Kulturwissenschaft (Humboldt-Universität) and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Brooks College at Grand Valley State University. The conference aimed to move trauma research towards new sites of inquiry and innovative methodologies, concentrating on interconnections between language and trauma in audio-visual media, visual culture, national historiographies, medical and political discourse, literary narratives, and the fine arts. The conference speakers focused on questions of disciplinary terminology and explored how different cultures and interest groups – medical professionals, traumatized individuals and communities, patients, families, politicians, artists, and academic scholars – shape distinct notions and conceptions of trauma. A central question that unified the conversations between international interdisciplinary colleagues included: how do shifting and at times competing theories and representations of trauma in different disciplines alter our understanding of trauma?

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Book announcement – Therapeutic Revolutions Pharmaceuticals and Social Change in the Twentieth Century

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Even if the book edited by Jeremy A. Greene, Flurin Condrau, and Elizabeth Siegel Watkins is not limited to the history of psychiatry – far from that – the volume certainly is of interest for the readers of h-madness and not only due to the article by Nicolas Henckes entitled “Magic Bullet in the head? Psychiatric revolutions and their aftermath”. The blurb reads:

When asked to compare the practice of medicine today to that of a hundred years ago, most people will respond with a story of therapeutic revolution: Back then we had few effective remedies, but now we have more (and more powerful) tools to fight disease, from antibiotics to psychotropics to steroids to anticancer agents.

This collection challenges the historical accuracy of this revolutionary narrative and offers instead a more nuanced account of the process of therapeutic innovation and the relationships between the development of medicines and social change. These assembled histories and ethnographies span three continents and use the lived experiences of physicians and patients, consumers and providers, and marketers and regulators to reveal the tensions between universal claims of therapeutic knowledge and the actual ways these claims have been used and understood in specific sites, from postwar West Germany pharmacies to twenty-first century Nigerian street markets. By asking us to rethink a story we thought we knew, Therapeutic Revolutions offers invaluable insights to historians, anthropologists, and social scientists of medicine.

For more information, click here.

Book announcement – Deinstitutionalisation and After Post-War: Psychiatry in the Western World

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Despo Kritsotaki, Vicky Long and Matthew Smith have finally published the long-awaited – at least by the author of this post – results of their conference organised in 2013 on “Deinstitutionalisation and After: Post-War Psychiatry in Global Perspective”. The blurb reads:

The book relates the history of post-war psychiatry, focusing on deinstitutionalisation, namely the shift from asylum to community in the second part of the twentieth century.
After the Second World War, psychiatry and mental health care were reshaped by deinstitutionalisation. But what exactly was involved in this process? What were the origins of deinstitutionalisation and what did it mean to those who experienced it? What were the ramifications, both positive and negative, of such a fundamental shift in psychiatric care? Post-War Psychiatry in the Western World: Deinstitutionalisation and After seeks to answer these questions by exploring this momentous change in mental health care from 1945 to the present in a wide range of geographical settings. The book articulates a nuanced account of the history of deinstitutionalisation, highlighting the constraints and inconsistencies inherent in treating the mentally ill outside of the asylum, while seeking to inform current debates about how to help the most vulnerable members of society.

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