Sewing the Tapestry of the History of Psychiatry: Anne Harrington’s ‘Mind Fixers’

David Robertson // Over the last twenty years, considerable scholarly contributions have been made to the history of psychiatry. We have had historical analyses of the concept of “nerves” and “neurasthenia,” of “trauma” and the emergence of diagnoses such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.[1] Historians have examined the material settings of neuropsychiatric efforts to localize brain…

A New History of Hereditary Science: ‘Genetics in the Madhouse’

David Robertson // Aided by the rapid growth of publicly available big data and internet search engines, genealogy tracing has become a hugely popular activity. But its origins are not so technologically glamorous: as historian Theodore Porter puts it, ‘The science of human heredity arose first amid the moans, stench, and unruly despair of mostly…

Three ‘Cs’ of Global Health’s Avalanche of Numbers

David Robertson // ‘Suicide rate up 33%’ reads a recent news headline; ‘dementia skyrocketed by 117% over just 26 years’, reads another.[1] Internationally, health media today indicates a growing reliance on the quantitative representation of health findings, outcomes, and interventions in a display of what philosopher of science Ian Hacking once described, referring to the…

Databases, Diagnoses, and the History of Psychiatry

David Robertson // Like other fields of medicine, psychiatry depends upon “information infrastructures” in order to distinguish between different mental disorders. Such infrastructures include the personnel, tools, systems, and networks essential for the day-to-day collection of large quantities of data. Attending to the historical transformation of information infrastructures in psychiatry calls on the historian to…