American Nervousness, 1903

Notes, Summaries & Reviews

Tom Lutz, American Nervousness, 1903: An Anecdotal History (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991).

This is a strange one, but offers and interesting and valuable perspective on neurasthenia in its heyday primarily through the use of literary sources. Lutz takes what can loosely be described as a microhistorical approach with the goal of showing how a discourse of disease can be used to negotiate cultural change.

It would be incorrect to say that Lutz really “argues” anything in this book; rather, he’s taken a selection of literature and analyzed it in the context of the discourse surrounding neurasthenia. Most of his actors use it to express very different feelings about their cultural hopes and realities.

Before Freud

Notes, Summaries & Reviews

F. G. Gosling, Before Freud: Neurasthenia and the American Medical Community, 1870-1910 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987).

Gosling provides a history of neurasthenia before Freud entered the scene of American psychology that considers those outside the “elite” group of physicians (Beard, Mitchell, and co.) who developed the concept in the late 19th century. As a mental illness constructed by physicians and their patients, Gosling argues neurasthenia provides an excellent inroad into the “gender and class biases” that the disease served to justify.

Exhaustion and the Pathologization of Modernity

Notes, Summaries & Reviews

Anna Katharina Schaffner, “Exhaustion and the Pathologization of Modernity,” Journal of Medical Humanities 37, no 3 (2016): 327-341.

Argues that “exhaustion,” typically paired with other, varying symptoms, has factored into medical discourse in the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, and has functioned as a medicalized critique of technological advancement. Looks at works by George Cheyne, George Beard, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Sigmund Freud, Alain Ehrenberg and Jonathan Crary.

Intimate Climates

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

Vladimir Jankovic, “Intimate Climates: From Skins to Streets, Soirees to Societies,” in Intimate Universality: Local and Global Themes in the History of Weather and Climate eds. James Fleming, Vladimir Jankovic, and Deborah Coen, 1-34 (Sagamore Beach: Science History Publications, 2006).

In this chapter, Jankovic is interested in the dichotomy of the indoor/outdoor and in understandings (from literary and medical sources) of weather before the mass quantitative study of it really took off. He is particularly interested in indoor environments, an understudied aspect of weather — “intimate meteorologies.”

Selling Air

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

John Beckerson and John K. Walton, “Selling Air: Marking the Intangible at British Resorts,” in Histories of Tourism: Representation, Identity, and Conflict ed. John K. Walton, 55-68 (Channel View Publications, 2005).

In this chapter, Beckerson and Walton analyze promotional material and medical/scientific opinion on air as a draw to different health resorts. They describe its link to the philosophy of climatic determinism, highlighting the different kinds of air publicists from different countries marketed as being salubrious. They seem to constrain their analysis to sea air and to England, which renders the chapter a bit less useful for me. The work is mostly descriptive.

The Politics of Medical Topography

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

Harriet Deacon, “The Politics of Medical Topography: Seeking healthiness at the Cape during the nineteenth century,” 279-297, in Pathologies of Travel eds. R. Wrigley and G. Revill (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000).

Deacon focuses primarily upon the imperial, moral, and economic reasons that Cape Town faded as an important health resort spot in the 19th century. It was longer on an important trade route and was unable to compete with Mediterranean or, more significantly, European health resorts in society and status.

I didn’t find a whole lot useful here, mostly because the focus was not on the role that science played in the Cape’s downfall (and attempts to remain relevant). Deacon spends a lot of time fleshing out the moral implications that the developing city with few aristocratic or other high-ranking imperial officials seemed to have for some of those who commented on it. While its climate was originally held to be quite healthful, the discourse on climate and its deterministic role in the making of the individual increasingly cast doubt onto the location’s healthfulness. Deacon argues that this change was one explained better by imperialistic and economic motives than medical or scientific ones.

Modern Airs, Waters, Places

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

The Bulletin of the History of Medicine put out a special issue in the winter of 2012 that focused on the resilience and evolution of the “airs, waters, places tradition.” (It was edited by Alison Bashford and Sarah Tracey — the latter is on my MA committee!!!)

Though the contributors are for the most part concerned with the 20th century, the introduction to the issue contains some historiographical information about studies on climate that are incredibly helpful for getting my feet wet.

First off, it looks like historians studying climatology have been arguing for some time that the traditional signposts of modern medicine — germ theory and bacteriology — did not alter the way that laypeople, physicians, or scientists understood wellness and disease. Rather, “…microorganisms continued to be understood in relation to an environmentally shaped human physiology…[and]…[m]edical men continued to gather and assess meteorological data in minute detail long after microorganisms were known to be necessary and sufficient to cause disease.” (504)

Inventing Caribbean Climates

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

Mark Carey, “Inventing Caribbean Climates: How Science, Medicine and Tourism Changed Tropical Weather from Deadly to Healthy,” Osiris 26, no. 1 (2011): 129-141.

In this piece, Carey traces changing European and North American perceptions of Caribbean climates from 1750-1950. He argues that these understandings were not shaped only by the climactic science; rather, they were constructed around multiple considerations, including “…environmental conditions, knowledge systems, social relations, politics, and economics.” (129) Carey understands these ideas, then, to be culturally constructed and argues, in line with most recent studies on climate, for the cultural construction of climate.

Water Cures and Science

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

George Weisz, “Water Cures and Science: The french Academy of Medicine and Mineral Waters in the Nineteenth Century,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 64, no. 3 (1990): 393-416.

In this piece, Weisz discusses institutional and individual attempts in nineteenth century France to place mineral waters and the therapies that involved them on a biomedical, statistical, and chemical foundation of therapeutic efficacy. He argues that the different way in which spa therapies are understood, utilized, and supported in Europe versus in North America is due to the medical and scientific fields’ support of hydrotherapy in the former, where it is largely absent in the latter.

Chemistry, Medicine, and the Legitimization of English Spas, 1740-1840

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

Christopher Hamlin, “Chemistry, Medicine, and the Legitimization of English Spas, 1740-1840,” Medical History, Supplement No. 10 (1990): 67-81.

Hamlin, much like he does in A Science of Impurity, discusses the role of chemistry in the legitimization of health spas. He argues that their domination of the conversation was not due to any sort of revolution in techniques — there were actually a lot of widely recognized problems with analyzing mineral waters — but due to a myriad of factors that included the rise of the profession as a whole and individual chemists’ abilities to assert their ability to explain scientifically and objectively the concrete reasons for different spas’ medical effects.