Monthly Archives: January 2017

Seminar 3: Fears, phobias and obsessions in the late-nineteenth century

Fears, phobias and obsessions in the late-nineteenth century

The third HSMT seminar of Hilary Term will take place at 16.00 on Monday 30th January (Week 3) in the Lecture Theatre of the History Faculty on George Street, and will be delivered by Sally Shuttleworth.

Sally Shuttleworthn moved to Oxford in 2006 to take up the post of the Head of the Humanities Division, with responsibility for the 11 faculties and units which make up the Division of Humanities within the University. She stepped down from this role in 2011 to return to research and is currently running two large research projects to extend her work on the interface of literature, science and culture: ‘Diseases of Modern Life: Nineteenth-Century Perspectives’ and ‘Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries’. She also teaches Victorian literature and culture.

Carl Friedrich Otto Westphal’s now-classic paper on ‘Agoraphobia’ of 1871 laid the foundations for the rapid development of work on phobias, fears and obsessions which sprang up in the last decades of the nineteenth century. This preoccupation with excessive states of fear, out of all proportion to any evident causes, climaxed in G. Stanley Hall’s ‘Synthetic Genetic Study of Fear’ in the American Journal of Psychology (1914), which registered no less than 138 different types of pathological fear, all with their own Greek or Latinate names, from more generalised categories such as agoraphobia, to the very specific pteronophobia (fear of feathers). In this talk, Shuttleworth will explore the intersection of medical and literary discourses of fear as they emerged in the latter half of the century, looking particularly at the ways in which psychiatry turned to literature for case studies of phobia and obsession.

G. Stanley Hall’s ‘Synthetic Genetic Study of Fear’, mentioned above, is available though SOLO in the American Journal of Psychology, Volume 25, No.3 (July 1914). The article can be accessed via this link if you’re already logged in to SOLO.








Several of Shuttleworth’s published works are also available online through SOLO. The mind of the child: child development in literature, science, and medicine 1840-1900 explores issues such as childhood fears, imaginary lands, sexuality, and the relation of the child to animal life, moving between literature and science. Chapter 2 of part 1 is entitled ‘Fears, Phantasms, and Night Terrors’, which is of particular relevance to the seminar. Shuttleworth is also a co-author of Crossing boundaries: thinking through literature, along with Julie Scanlon, Amy Waste, and Terry Eagleton. Shuttleworth’s chapter is ”So Childish and So Dreadfully Un-Childlike’: Cultural Constructions of Idiocy in the Mid-Nineteenth Century’, but its following chapter may also be relevant to the topic of fears: ”Aberrant Passions and Unaccountable Antipathies’: Nervous Women, Nineteenth-Century Neurology and Literary Text’, by Jane Wood.







The book from which Shuttleworth’s research project takes its name, Diseases of modern life by Benjamin Ward Richardson (QZ 40/Rich), is an interesting primary source text that we hold in the Unit Library, with some illuminating discussion of ‘Disease from Worry and Mental Strain’ (Part the Second, Chapter II). It covers such afflictions from mental strain as Hysteria and Broken Heart. This work approaches the effects of worry on health with the focus of the interview; a completely different angle on the topic of fear can be found in Philip Alcabes’s book Dread : how fear and fantasy have fueled epidemics from the Black Death to avian flu by (RA649 ALC 2009). This work looks at how anxieties about outbreaks of disease often stray from the facts to incorporate inflated fears about what is unknown, undesirable or misunderstood.








Allan Horwitz’s Anxiety : a short history (RC531 HOR 2013 and online) is a more general work on the topic, covering melancholia, nerves, neuroses and phobias, but has a pertinent chapter entitled ‘The Nineteenth Century’s New Uncertainties’. This explores how the newly industrialized world created a wide range of uncertainties, including a discussion of phobias. Finally, The age of anxiety : a history of America’s turbulent affair with tranquilizers by Andrea Tone (RM333 TON 2009) looks at medication and anxieties, and takes a brief look at the roots of modern anxiety in Victorian neurasthenia (‘tired nerves’) in its first chapter.








You can read more about Shuttleworth’s research into The Stresses and Strains of Modern Life here:

Please come and ask library staff if you would like any help with locating resources, or conducting further research. We also welcome further suggestions for reading not included in this post!

Header image: ‘A woman diagnosed as suffering from melancholia with fear, or fear of everything, and with a propensity to attempt suicide’
L0026691 Credit: Wellcome Library, London
A woman diagnosed as suffering from melancholia with fear, or fear of everything, and with a propensity to attempt suicide. Lithograph, 1892, after a drawing made for Sir Alexander Morison.
1892 after: Alexander Morison and Byrom Bramwell
Published: [s.n.],[Edinburgh] : [1892]; Printed: McLagan & Cumming Lith.)(Edin[bu]r[gh] :
Size: image 20.5 x 20 cm. ; Collection: Iconographic Collections
Library reference no.: ICV No 51428 and Iconographic Collection 38637i
Full Bibliographic Record: Link to Wellcome Library Catalogue

Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Seminar 2: Richard Titmuss and the origins of social medicine

Richard Titmuss and the origins of social medicine

The second HSMT seminar of Hilary Term will take place at 16.00 on Monday 23rd January (Week 2) in the Lecture Theatre of the History Faculty on George Street, and will be delivered by John Stewart.

John Stewart is a Research Associate here in the Wellcome Unit, whose research interests range broadly across modern British history. In particular, his work has focused on the history of health care provision and social policy, with an associated emphasis on the history of child welfare. Specific research topics have included: municipal medicine in inter-war England and Wales; child evacuation policies in wartime Scotland; and welfare provision in ‘peripheral’ areas of the United Kingdom and Europe. He is currently writing a biography of Richard Titmuss for the London School of Economics, as the LSE Library holds an extensive collection of Titmuss’s papers and of a number of his close colleagues and associates.

Richard Titmuss is perhaps best known as the first Professor of Social Administration at the London School of Economics (LSE). He was appointed to this post in 1950 and held it until his death in 1973 during which time he developed, initially single-handedly, the academic field of social administration/policy. He also held many official positions and advised the Labour Party on welfare issues. However prior to his LSE appointment Titmuss was seen, and regarded himself, as an expert on population and population health. This seminar examines his (erroneous) belief that the British population was about to decline and, more importantly, his analysis of the health of that population through which he showed that rates of morbidity and mortality were crucially shaped by environment and socio-economic circumstance. So, for instance, in the 1930s the infant mortality rate was significantly higher in the industrial North of England than in the affluent South East and, relatively speaking, this situation was worsening rather than improving. It is thus argued that Titmuss was instrumental, in the period from around 1935 to around 1945, in shaping the emerging field of social medicine, a field concerned with social rather than individual pathology. Titmuss published extensively in this area and the seminar draws on works such as his book Birth, Poverty and Wealth (1943) and on the numerous articles he wrote for journals such as The Lancet and The Spectator.

We have two of Stewart’s own published works here in the Unit library, which are of relevance to his seminar. Child guidance in Britain, 1918-1955 : the dangerous age of childhood (HV751.A6 STE 2013) is a history of the child guidance literature from its origins post-World War I until the consolidation of the welfare state. The concepts widely used in this guidance played a part in broader social and cultural perceptions of the healthy emotional development of a child. His earlier work, ‘The battle for health’ : a political history of the Socialist Medical Association, 1930-51 (RA413.5.G7 STE 1999) is a scholarly study of the Labour Party-affiliated Socialist Medical Society, founded in 1930, whose aim was a free, comprehensive and universal state medical service.

Child guidance

Battle for guidance









Richard Titmuss himself published a number of titles, many of which we hold. One that the seminar will focus on is Birth, poverty and wealth : a study of infant mortality (HB1323.I4 TIT 1943), a study of the inequalities between the economic classes of England and Wales. Titmuss concludes that such inequalities increased steadily in the first half of the twentieth century, and that maternal and infant welfare services had proved inadequate to the problems they were designed to solve. A broader work of Titmuss’ is Social policy : an introduction (HV31 TIT 1974), based on the introductory letters Titmuss delivered to students at the London School of Economics. The work explores the wide range of social, medical and economic changes in society which generate social problems, and analyses the implications of different solutions.

Birth, poverty

Social policy









As an influential and sometimes controversial figure in public heath, we also hold titles written about Titmuss, after he died. David Reisman’s Richard Titmuss : welfare and society (HN16 REI 1977) seeks to explain and evaluate Titmuss’ work, concluding that his model of social welfare was the best of its time. Richard Morris Titmuss, 1907-1973  (HN16 GOW 1975) is a short pamphlet by Margaret Gowing published soon after his death that serves as a very brief memoir of his life. It gives an idea not only of his work, but also his personality:

“He had an inexhaustible fund of kindness and friendship and treated everyone alike, with real interest and consideration; he was available to all and was the most patient of listeners.”











Works on Social Sciences are generally classified under the shelfmark H. Social history and conditions, social problems and social reform come under HN, while Social and Public Welfare are HV. More relevant works will be found in these areas of the library.

Please come and ask library staff if you would like any help with locating resources, or conducting further research. We also welcome further suggestions for reading not included in this post!

Header image: Richard Titmuss (


Seminar 1: Prophets of Progress?

‘Prophets of progress? Predicting the future of science and technology from H G Wells to Isaac Asimov’

The first HSMT seminar of Hilary Term will take place at 16.00 on Monday 16th January (Week 1) in the Lecture Theatre of the History Faculty on George Street, and will be delivered by Peter Bowler.

Peter Bowler is based at Queen’s University, Belfast, and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a corresponding member of the Académie Internationale d’Histoire des Sciences. He was President of the British Society for the History of Science 2004-6. He has published extensively on the development and impact of the theory of evolution, focusing especially on the role played by theories other than Darwinian natural selection. More recently he has worked on the relationship between science and religion and on twentieth-century British popular science. His latest work is on twentieth-century speculations about the future development of science and technology, combining a long-standing interest in science fiction with his knowledge of the popular science literature.

The first half of the twentieth century saw the emergence of science fiction as a recognized genre, but popular science writers also sought to imagine what the next developments would be, especially in areas with immediate practical applications. This talk will explore a number of issues relating to how we can understand the role played by science in popular culture through these predictions. What were the interactions between popular science writing and works of fiction ranging from science fiction to the many pessimistic novels of the period? How were public expectations aroused and used to create hopes of major improvements in everyday life, or fears of war and other calamities? How were rival technologies promoted by those who hoped to benefit from their introduction? The talk concludes by taking debates about the future of aviation during the inter-war years as a case study.

We have three of Bowler’s published works in the Wellcome Unit Library, the earliest of which is The eclipse of Darwinism : anti-Darwinian evolution theories in the decades around 1900 (QH361 BOW 1983). In this work, Bowler reevaluates the influence of social forces on the scientific community and explores the broad philosophical, ideological, and social implications of scientific theories. The Mendelian revolution : the emergence of hereditarian concepts in modern science and society (QH428 BOW 1989) examines the interpretations and theories of Mendelian genetics and their role in the emergence of modern ideas and values. His 1990 work Charles Darwin : the man and his influence (QH31.D2 BOW 1990) further evaluates the biograhy and cultural history around Darwin’s work, and the motivations of its various evaluations.



Mendelian Rev

Charles Darwin












As described in the seminar title, one of the writers Bowler will focus on in his talk is H.G. Wells. We hold two copies of his scientific writings in the library, both of which contain a number of interesting illustrations. The science of life (QH309 WEL 1931), written jointly with Julian Huxley and G.P. Wells, has been called the ‘first modern textbook of biology’, and Book 1: The Living Body is an interesting read for HSMT. This section of the book is reproduced on its own in a smaller (and less unwieldy) version, The living body, H. G. Wells (QH 325/Well). Wells and his contemporaries look at the concept that ‘The Body is a Machine’, which ties with some of the themes of several of Wells’ novels, such as ‘The War of the Worlds’, ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau’ and ‘The Invisible Man’.

Body machine 2

Body machine







Isaac Asimov is another writer mentioned and we also have a copy of Inside the atom (QC778 ASI 1961). The book describes the internal structure of the atom, and the sequence of concepts described follows the sequence that these facts were discovered in. It is intended to be accessible for the less scholarly reader, and ends on the somewhat foreboding note, ‘If only we can learn to use wisely the knowledge we already have…’, echoing fears of technology that can be seen in twentieth-century literature, in particular science fiction.











The intersection of medicine and literature is an interesting subsection of the history of medicine, and works on this topic can be found most commonly in the Wellcome Unit Library at shelfmark ‘P’. Our collections in the area have particular strengths in the influence of psychology and its theories on literature. The mind of modernism : medicine, psychology, and the cultural arts in Europe and America, 1880-1940 by Mark Micale (PN56.P93 MIN 2004) explores the interplay of the aesthetic and psychological domains during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in relation to Modernism, which took shape when modern psychological disciplines were establishing their scientific foundations. William Greenslade’s Degeneration, culture and the novel, 1880-1940 (PR888.D373 G74 GRE 1994) looks at how developments in medical, biological and psychiatric sciences led many to believe that ignorance, insanity, criminality and even homosexuality were evidence of degeneration of the human race, causing disturbing social changes. Greenslade examines the impact of these degeneration theories on culture and fiction.












Please come and ask library staff if you would like any help with locating resources, or conducting further research. We also welcome further suggestions for reading not included in this post!

1. David C. Smith, H.G. Wells: Desperately Mortal (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 262.





Hilary Term 2017 Seminar Series

The following seminars will be held on Mondays at 4pm in the History Faculty Lecture Theatre, George Street.

Coffee will be available from 15:30

All are welcome

*Please note: there will be no weekly blog post with suggested reading for seminars 4-6, as these are not on the History of Medicine*

‘Research Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology’

Week 1: 16 January
Peter Bowler, Queen’s University, Belfast
‘Prophets of progress? Predicting the future of science and technology from H G Wells to Isaac Asimov’

Week 2: 23 January
John Stewart, LSE/Oxford
‘Richard Titmuss and the origins of social medicine’

Week 3: 30 January
Sally Shuttleworth, University of Oxford
‘Fears, phobias and obsessions in the late-nineteenth century’

Week 4: 6 February
Gordon Barrett, University of Oxford
‘Stuck in the middle with you: scientist, state, and network in Chinese engagement with the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, 1957-1985’

Week 5: 13 February
Philipp Nothaft, University of Oxford
‘Precession or trepidation? The motion of the sphere of fixed stars as a problem in medieval Latin astronomy’

Week 6: 20 February
James Sumner, University of Manchester
‘Garbage in, garbage out? A history of representations of computers in popular media’

Week 7: 27 February
Helen Anne Curry, University of Cambridge
‘Biology as technology: an unexpected history of innovation in living things’

Week 8: 6 March
Yolana Pringle, University of Cambridge
‘Peer support, mental health activism, and changing doctor-patient relationships in Uganda’

Conveners: Professor Mark Harrison, Professor Rob Iliffe, Dr Sloan Mahone, Dr Erica Charters

Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford
45-47 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6PE
Tel: (01865) 274600

Details of all Wellcome Unit events can be found at: