HooPLa on the history of psychiatry

Image from Christopher Payne's book Asylum

I recently had the opportunity to lead a discussion on the topic of the mental asylum era in the nineteenth century with my supervisor, Christopher Green, and fellow PhD students, Jacy Young and Jeremy Burman, as part of the inaugural episode of a new podcast series called “History of Psychology Laboratory” – or HooPLa! for short. The premise of the series is to discuss a topic from psychology’s past and intersperse our conversation with excerpts from oral interviews conducted with leading researchers in the field. Our first episode is based on interviews that Jacy Young and I carried out this past summer with several noted historians of the institutional era: Andrew Scull, David Wright, and Elizabeth Lunbeck. To these we were able to include an interview Christopher Green had done with historian Gerald Grob. The HooPLa! podcast episode focuses on providing an outline of the mental asylum era by looking at questions such as: What initiated the spread of asylums in the nineteenth century? What was the goal of these institutions? What were the common treatment methods? And What happened to the asylum? Our goal was to present an open discussion of the asylum era geared at undergraduate students or those new to the topic. The new series is an extension of an earlier podcast series produced by Green: “This Week in the History of Psychology” – or TWITHOP. The original series features one-on-one interviews with historians of psychology on select topics from the discipline’s past. These included interviews with Eric Engstrom on Emil Kraepelin’s taxonomy of mental illness; Gerald Grob on the 1963 Community Mental Centers Act; and Raymond Fancher on the topic of Sigmund Freud’s only trip to the United States in 1909; among many others. These episodes – with more to come – are available at the “This Week in the History of Psychology” iTunes page. They are also available at the URL:  http://www.yorku.ca/christo/podcasts/

Jennifer Bazar

New article in Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

The April issue of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences is now out and includes an article by Alice Mauger entitled “‘Confinement of the Higher Orders’: The Social Role of Private Lunatic Asylums in Ireland, c. 1820–60”.

The abstract reads:

The period 1820–60 marked an era of transition and diversity in Ireland that rapidly transformed the face of Irish society. Inextricably linked with these processes was the expansion of Ireland’s private asylum system. This system diverged from its British counterpart both in the socioeconomic cohort it served and in the role it played within the mental health-care system as a whole. The implementation of the 1842 Private Asylums (Ireland) Act, the first legislative measure geared exclusively toward the system, highlighted the growing importance of private care in Ireland as well as providing for the licensing and regulation of these institutions for the first time. To date, historians of Irish medicine have focused almost exclusively on the pauper insane. This article aims to shift this emphasis toward other categories of the Irish insane through exploration of the Irish private asylum system, its growth throughout the period, and the social profile of private patients. I shall also interrogate the trade in lunacy model through exploration of financial considerations, discharge and recovery rates, and conditions of care and argue that while Irish private institutions were a lucrative business venture, the quality of care upheld was apparently high. Finally, I shall argue that Irish private asylums catered primarily for the upper classes and briefly explore alternative provisional measures for other non-pauper sectors of society.

For more information, click here.

“Writing Madness” – BBC Radio 4

Currently streaming on BBC Radio 4 is a programme entitled “Writing Madness” that explores the links between modern psychiatric thought and great works of fiction.

Contributors include psychotherapist and essayist Adam Philips, leading psychiatrist Simon Wessely, cultural historian Lisa Appignanesi and Chris Thompson, psychiatrist and medical director of The Priory.

The website offers us a taste of the programme:

How did modern literary and psychiatric ideas meet and how did each shape the other? Do these heroines show literature of the period to be a critical – and even emancipating – force…or is fiction really medicine’s stooge? Novels on the couch include Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway….interestingly with both novels there’s a tendency to base the heroines on real people – Nicole Diver is based on the case history of Fitzgerald’s own wife Zelda, whereas Woolf’s Mrs.Dalloway comes very close in literary terms to what Freud calls ‘self-analysis’ – one difference is that Woolf sometimes believed ‘madness’ was necessary to be creative, while Scott Fitzgerald depicted it as disastrous drain on creativity (ie. his). And both novels have the dynamic and lucrative new industry of psychotherapy in their sights. Vivienne compares fiction in the age of Freud to literary ideas of mental health in the Victorian age and in Dickens specifically, using Great Expectations’ Miss Havisham as a case study.

Click here to stream the 30-minute clips.

Post-Doc – Ethnicity and Mental Health in Post-War Britain

Some post-doc opportunities have arisen from an alliance between Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Warwick. Eight post-doctoral research fellowships are being offered, two of them to work on a project in the histories of medicine and emotions: ‘Ethnicity and Mental Health in Post-War Britain’. The application deadline is 11 May 2012, and more information can be found on the two following homepages: http://www.qmul.ac.uk/emotions/ and: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/about/partnerships/queenmary/ethnicity-and-mental-health.

Exhibition “X-Rays of The Soul: Rorschach & The Projective Test”

X-Rays of The Soul: Rorschach & The Projective Test

Exhibition at the Harvard Science Center

Until 30 June 2012

Beginning in 1921 with the Rorschach Inkblot Test and gaining momentum with the Thematic Apperception Test in 1935, a new breed of psychological probe aimed to reach previously inaccessible layers and levels of the unconscious self: the projective test.

Likened to X-rays of the inner life, these instruments promised to capture what no other tool could access – the secret self. The story of the triumphal rise as well as the periodic setbacks of the projective test movement is evidence of the heady confidence of the Twentieth Century human sciences to be able to extract and access the most human parts of human beings –scientifically.

From the genesis of the tests in passionate personal relationships to the recent Wikipedia furor over posting the Rorschach images, the exhibit seeks to capture this neglected history’s equally utopian and dystopian elements.

Special Exhibitions Gallery, Department of History of Science, Harvard Science Center 251

Official opening on Friday 30 March 2012 from 5-7pm, hosted by Professors Peter Galison and Janet Browne

For more information, click here.

A History of the Brain – BBC Radio 4

In case you missed it when it aired this past November: BBC Radio 4’s programme on the “History of the Brain“, written and presented by Dr Geoff Bunn, is available on BBC iPlayer.

It contains a series of 15-minute clips on such topics as neurology, electroencephalography, neuroscience, Freud, and phrenology.

You can find all of the episodes here.

British Psychological Society History of the Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series

British Psychological Society History of the Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series

Organiser: Professor Sonu Shamdasani (UCL)

Monday 26th March


Professor Elizabeth Valentine (Royal Holloway)

“Spooks and Spoofs: relations between psychical research and academic psychology in Britain in the inter-war period”

The close connections between psychologists and the Society for Psychical Research in the late nineteenth century have been duly acknowledged. What is less well known is that senior academic psychologists were involved in psychical research in the early to mid-twentieth century. William McDougall and William Brown attended a number of séances arranged by Harry Price; JC Flugel, Cyril Burt, C Alec Mace and Francis Aveling were members of his ‘University of London Council for Psychical Investigation’ and supported psychical research in various ways. This paper describes some of their antics and ask how reputable psychologists (and the University of London) could have collaborated with someone the Economist described as “a rogue, a falsifier, and a manufacturer of evidence”. Personal, metaphysical and socio-historical factors in their collaboration are discussed. It is suggested that the main reason for their mutual attraction was their common engagement in a delicate balancing act between courting popular appeal on the one hand and the assertion of scientific expertise and authority on the other. Their interaction is typical of the boundary work performed at this transitional stage in the development of psychology as a discipline.

Time: 6pm-7.30pm

Location: UCL Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, Room 544, 5th Floor, 1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HB

Directions: From the main reception, go through the double doors at the back and turn left, walk the length of this corridor and at the very end turn left again – you will find yourself in front of the ‘West’ Lifts. Take these to 5th Floor. On exiting the lift, turn right through double doors and then left through single door, walk the length of this corridor pass through another door and then turn right – you will see a marble table ahead. Room 544 is straight ahead.

For more information, click here.

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