Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Medical history


‘Medicalisation’ of same sex relations is a phenomenon that reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s. The rise of gay liberation produced a divisive political contest with the psychiatric profession and adherents of the orthodox ‘medical model’ in the United States and - to a lesser extent - in the United Kingdom. This socio-historical process occurred throughout the English-speaking world, but much less is known about its dynamics in smaller countries such as New Zealand where the historiography on this issue is very sparse. The methodology situates New Zealand within a transnational framework to explore the circulation of medical theories and the critical responses they were met with. The article is anchored around three key local moments in the 1970s to consider the changing terrain on which ideas about homosexuality and psychiatry were constantly rearranged during this decade. This power struggle took a number of twists and turns, and the drive toward medicalisation alternated with a new impetus to de-medicalise same-sex sexuality.

Concepts: LGBT, United Kingdom, English language, Commonwealth of Nations, Sexual orientation, Homosexuality, Bisexuality, Gay


This essay examines the ‘infiltration’ of eugenics into Russian medical discourse during the formation of the eugenics movement in western Europe and North America in 1900-17. It describes the efforts of two Russian physicians, the bacteriologist and hygienist Nikolai Gamaleia (1859-1949) and the psychiatrist Tikhon Iudin (1879-1949), to introduce eugenics to the Russian medical community, analysing in detail what attracted these representatives of two different medical specialties to eugenic ideas, ideals, and policies advocated by their western colleagues. On the basis of a close examination of the similarities and differences in Gamaleia’s and Iudin’s attitudes to eugenics, the essay argues that lack of cohesiveness gave the early eugenics movement a unique strength. The loose mix of widely varying ideas, ideals, methods, policies, activities and proposals covered by the umbrella of eugenics offered to a variety of educated professionals in Russia and elsewhere the possibility of choosing, adopting and adapting particular elements to their own national, professional, institutional and disciplinary contexts, interests and agendas.

Concepts: Medicine, Physician, Europe, Pediatrics, Bioethics, Francis Crick, Specialty, Russia


Histories of twentieth-century surgery have focused on surgical ‘firsts’ - dramatic tales of revolutionary procedures. The history of tonsillectomy is less glamorous, but more widespread, representing the experience and understanding of medicine for hundreds of children, parents and surgeons daily. At the start of the twentieth century, tonsillectomy was routine - performed on at least 80 000 schoolchildren each year in Britain. However, by the 1980s, public and professional discourse condemned the operation as a ‘dangerous fad’. This profound shift in the medical, political and social position of tonsillectomy rested upon several factors: changes in the organisation of medical institutions and national health care; changes in medical technologies and the criteria by which they are judged; the political, cultural and economic context of Britain; and the social role of the patient. Tonsillectomy was not a mere passive subject of external influences, but became a potent concept in medical, political, and social discourse. Therefore, it reciprocally influenced these discourses and subsequently the development of twentieth-century British medicine. These complex interactions between ‘medical’ and ‘non-medical’ spheres question the possibility of demarcating what is internal from what is external to medicine.

Concepts: Health care, Medicine, Surgery, Sociology, Physician, 20th century, Discourse, Otolaryngology


The history of ‘electroshock therapy’ (now known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)) in Europe in the Third Reich is still a neglected chapter in medical history. Since Thomas Szasz’s ‘From the Slaughterhouse to the Madhouse’, prejudices have hindered a thorough historical analysis of the introduction and early application of electroshock therapy during the period of National Socialism and the Second World War. Contrary to the assumption of a ‘dialectics of healing and killing’, the introduction of electroshock therapy in the German Reich and occupied territories was neither especially swift nor radical. Electroshock therapy, much like the preceding ‘shock therapies’, insulin coma therapy and cardiazol convulsive therapy, contradicted the genetic dogma of schizophrenia, in which only one ‘treatment’ was permissible: primary prevention by sterilisation. However, industrial companies such as Siemens-Reiniger-Werke AG (SRW) embraced the new development in medical technology. Moreover, they knew how to use existing patents on the electrical anaesthesia used for slaughtering to maintain a leading position in the new electroshock therapy market. Only after the end of the official ‘euthanasia’ murder operation in August 1941, entitled T4, did the psychiatric elite begin to promote electroshock therapy as a modern ‘unspecific’ treatment in order to reframe psychiatry as an ‘honorable’ medical discipline. War-related shortages hindered even the then politically supported production of electroshock devices. Research into electroshock therapy remained minimal and was mainly concerned with internationally shared safety concerns regarding its clinical application. However, within the Third Reich, electroshock therapy was not only introduced in psychiatric hospitals, asylums, and in the Auschwitz concentration camp in order to get patients back to work, it was also modified for ‘euthanasia’ murder.

Concepts: Seizure, Schizophrenia, Psychosis, Psychiatry, Electroconvulsive therapy, World War II, Nazism, Insulin shock therapy


Never before the nineteenth century had Europeans, especially in the south, adopted cordons sanitaires in such great numbers or at such a fast rate. This article aims to analyse the process of the rationalisation and militarisation of the cordons sanitaires imposed in the fight against epidemics during the nineteenth century on the Mediterranean island of Majorca (Spain). These cordons should be understood as a declaration of war by the authorities on emerging epidemics. Epidemics could generate sudden and intolerably high rises in mortality that the new liberal citizenship found unacceptable. Toleration of this type of measure was the result of a general consensus, with hardly any opposition, which not only obtained the support of scientists (especially in the field of medicine) but also of most of the local and provincial political elite, and even of the population at large.


This paper introduces simulation-based re-enactment (SBR) as a novel method of documenting and studying the recent history of surgical practice. SBR aims to capture ways of surgical working that remain within living memory but have been superseded due to technical advances and changes in working patterns. Inspired by broader efforts in historical re-enactment and the use of simulation within surgical education, SBR seeks to overcome some of the weaknesses associated with text-based, surgeon-centred approaches to the history of surgery. The paper describes how we applied SBR to a previously common operation that is now rarely performed due to the introduction of keyhole surgery: open cholecystectomy or removal of the gall bladder. Key aspects of a 1980s operating theatre were recreated, and retired surgical teams (comprising surgeon, anaesthetist and theatre nurse) invited to re-enact, and educate surgical trainees in this procedure. Video recording, supplemented by pre- and post-re-enactment interviews, enabled the teams' conduct of this operation to be placed on the historical record. These recordings were then used to derive insights into the social and technical nature of surgical expertise, its distribution throughout the surgical team, and the members' tacit and frequently sub-conscious ways of working. While acknowledging some of the limitations of SBR, we argue that its utility to historians - as well as surgeons - merits its more extensive application.

Concepts: Surgery, Surgeon, Laparoscopic surgery, Cholecystectomy, History, Historical reenactment


This article examines the research implications and uses of data for a large project investigating institutional confinement in Australia and New Zealand. The cases of patients admitted between 1864 and 1910 at four separate institutions, three public and one private, provided more than 4000 patient records to a collaborative team of researchers. The utility and longevity of this data and the ways to continue to understand its significance and contents form the basis of this article’s interrogation of data collection and methodological issues surrounding the history of psychiatry and mental health. It examines the themes of ethics and access, record linkage, categories of data analysis, comparison and record keeping across colonial and imperial institutions, and constraints and opportunities in the data itself. The aim of this article is to continue an ongoing conversation among historians of mental health about the role and value of data collection for mental health and to signal the relevance of international multi-sited collaborative research in this field.

Concepts: Scientific method, Mental health, Doctor-patient relationship, Mental disorder, Psychiatry, Mental health professional


A pressing question during the first half-decade of the third plague pandemic (1894-9) was what was a ‘suitable soil’ for the disease. The question related to plague’s perceived ability to disappear from a given city only to reappear at some future point; a phenomenon that became central to scientific investigations of the disease. However, rather than this simply having a metaphorical meaning, the debate around plague’s ‘suitable soil’ actually concerned the material reality of the soil itself. The prevalence of plague in the working-class neighbourhood of Taipingshan during the first major outbreak of the pandemic, in 1894 in Hong Kong, led to an extensive debate regarding the ability of the soil to harbour and even spread the disease. Involving experiments, which were seen as able to procure evidence for or against the demolition or even torching of the area, scientific and administrative concerns over the soil rendered it an unstable yet highly productive epistemic thing. The spread of plague to India further fuelled concerns over the ability of the soil to act as the medium of the disease’s so-called true recrudescence. Besides high-profile scientific debates, hands-on experiments on purifying the soil of infected houses by means of highly intrusive methods allowed scientists and administrators to act upon and further solidify plague’s supposed invisibility in the urban terrain. Rather than being a short-lived, moribund object of epidemiological concern, this paper will demonstrate that the soil played a crucial role in the development of plague as a scientifically knowable and actionable category for modern medicine.

Concepts: Scientific method, Epidemiology, Disease, Infectious disease, Science, Theory, Pandemic, Black Death


A scientific nomenclature of erotic age preferences informed the mid- through late nineteenth century joint appearance of homosexuality and sexual abuse of minors on the medico-legal scene. Yet, even in the twenty-first century, legal, psychiatric and culture-critical dimensions of related terms are rarely cleanly distinguished. Review of primary sources shows the ongoing Western suspension of notions of ‘sick desire’, alongside and beyond the medicalisation of homosexuality, between metaphor, legal interdiction and postulated psychopathology. Virtually all early attention to erotic age preference occurred in the context of emergent attention to erotic gender preference. Age of attraction and age difference centrally animate modern homosexuality’s pre-modern past; its earliest psychiatric nomenclature and typologies (1844-69); its early aetiologies stipulating degrees of sexual differentiation (1890s); its concomitant sub-classification (1896-1914); its earliest psychophysiological tests (1950s); and, finally, its post-psychiatric, social scientific typologies (1980s). Several identifications of ‘paedophilia’ were seen throughout the 1890s but as a trope it gained cultural momentum only during, and as a seemingly intriguing corollary of, the progressive depsychiatricisation of homosexuality across the Anglo-European world (late 1950s through 1980s). Early twentieth century sources varied in having it denote (1) a distinct perversion, thus possible ‘complication’ of sexual inversion (2) a discrete corollary of psychosexual differentiation akin to gender preference (3) a distinct subtype of fetishism, thus a likely imprint of early seduction (4) a more intricate expression of erotic symbolism or psychosexual complex or (5) a taste answering to culture, a lack of it, or a libertine disregard for it.

Concepts: Psychology, Gender, 20th century, Modern history, Psychiatry, Preference, 21st century, Centuries


A recent paper famously accused the rising field of social neuroscience of using faulty statistics under the catchy title ‘Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience’. This Special Issue invites us to take this claim as the starting point for a cross-cultural analysis: in which meaningful ways can recent research in the burgeoning field of functional imaging be described as, contrasted with, or simply compared to animistic practices? And what light does such a reading shed on the dynamics and effectiveness of a century of brain research into higher mental functions? Reviewing the heated debate from 2009 around recent trends in neuroimaging as a possible candidate for current instances of ‘soul catching’, the paper will then compare these forms of primarily image-based brain research with older regimes, revolving around the deciphering of the brain’s electrical activity. How has the move from a decoding paradigm to a representational regime affected the conceptualisation of self, psyche, mind and soul (if there still is such an entity)? And in what ways does modern technoscience provide new tools for animating brains?

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Neuroimaging, Neuroscience, Human brain, Cognitive science, Mind, Soul