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How to research controversial history?

How to research controversial history?


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I wouldn't be naming the specific examples as that might (will) needlessly divert the attention away from the question itself.

Let us say I am trying to research about historical events in a region. That events have multiple narratives given by parties that are stake holders. Some vehemently deny accusations while others make repeated accusations. I know it is really about tracking the evidences as one might find in documented/published material, but this is where the problem lies.

Most of the documented instances come from one of the parties involved, which makes it hard to consider. Furthermore, the narrative of a party is consistent with the published material, which must not be surprising.

There are very few so called "neutral" parties that have published anything substantial.

How should I proceed now?

I am a student of neither history nor journalism, so it would be helpful if additional information is provided regards methodology.


Another 3 advices to add to Sardathrion's:


  1. Try not to let emotions affect you into mistaking incidents for trends (one such example from History SE was when someone described US involvement in Vietnam as being a pattern of massacres. While Mai Lai is indeed horrific, it's (given the scale) a minor blip that serves to prove the opposite trend (out of 1million+ served, 50 soldiers participated) in dispassionate analysis.


  2. Be careful about logical fallacies.

    Among the most common encountered in discourse about history is confusing causation and correlation.


  3. Be VERY VERY careful about semantic and other word games that biased parties are wont to use. To give 2 types:

    • Using words outside the accepted definitions to tinge the events.

      To use a very controversial example from recent history, look at accusations of G.W.Bush "lying" about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. If you carefully analyze the claim, "lying" means stating something that one knows NOT to be true, yet there are no documents/witness accounts to prove that Bush White House knew that there were no WMDs prior to Iraq War. They may have lied about their degree of confidence, but they didn't have anywhere near conclusive proof of lack of WMDs.

      A common case of this is to intentionally switch around "murder" and "kill" verbs (the former 100% implies premeditated intent to kill).

    • Another, much more problematic game-wording, is playing with linguistics to prove historical facts/connections from isolated word root similarities etc…

      One less known example is modern Russian revisionist history which contains some fairly outlandish claims about pre-900s Russian tribes based on fancy playing with word roots to prove that certain historical references were about russians/slavs where they are historically accepted as being totally unrelated (It's been a while so I don't have any links to specifics, sorry).

      Another example is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where people claim somehow that modern Palestinians have a historical claim to the area stronger than the Israelis because their name derives from Philistines. However, archaeological (and some other, such as linguistic) evidence points to Philistines being of Greek-originated Mycenaean culture, and therefore not of Semitic origins like Arabs who comprise most of Palestinians. The name coincidence was due to geographical naming convention for the area.


Try to go back to primary source and archaeological evidences. Are there mass graves? What about population movement? What do statistics have to say about the population, economy, and whatnot?

You can look at the documents and narratives's authors and find out inconsistencies within them or evidence of forgeries/lies -- note that lack of such is not necessarily proof of facts. This may require investigative work on the ground.

The hard thing is not to cherry pick yourself: Please be aware of your own agenda and bias.


You should consider looking at alternative sources that are not biased as part of your research. For example, the United Nations issues reports that provide a generally unbiased view of situations going on in different countries throughout the world. Usually their reports will provide a fairly accurate view of both sides of the events, and then it is up to the reader to decide whether one side has a distinct moral advantage over the other. There are other organizations as well, such as Amnesty International, that do the same thing from a different perspective and for a different reason.

If the events you are researching extend back beyond the emergence of these types of organizations, then look for sources of information that originated outside your region of interest. For example, information from Jewish trade merchants may provide a generally unbiased view of both sides of the Crusades.

Having said all this, you should not completely discount or ignore the differing opinions within the region you are researching. Each side will certainly paint a picture that favors their viewpoints, but those are valid for providing perspective. Often it is up to the researcher to develop an opinion as to which side is right, but it is better if you can say that you have truly explored both perspectives. Also, sometimes you just have to provide both perspectives and let your intended audience come to their own conclusions.


Your question seems more oriented towards recent history than ancient history, so suggesting something for recent history: Follow the money. In most if not all armed conflicts, there are some entities making a killing in monetary terms or terms of political power or possession over material wealth (example: mines), who have a solid incentive to make that conflict carry on or spiral out of control and who might even commit actions to ensure that conflict resolution doesn't happen. And, in some cases, who might even mastermind the conflict-sparking incident to begin with. Qui bono : Who ultimately benefited from the events that took place?

One prime example : terrorist attacks that help the ruling regime divert attention away from their own shortcomings and which galvanize loyalty for the leader of that regime, which push the people into approving undemocratic legislations, decisions which otherwise would never have been accepted. Following which, the side that the terrorists were claiming to have attacked on behalf of, gets clobbered mercilessly and ends up in a much worse state, and the resources that were under their domain are now property of the other. With these kinds of events repeating regularly and with a fairly logical and predictable sorry outcome for the side whom the terrorists represent, it's worth asking if those terrorists were genuinely representing them at all, or were they acting at the behest of the leadership or behind-the-curtain controllers of the aggravated side to justify the next actions that would otherwise never have been approved.

So, here it can become vital to trace the sources of funding involved in the incidents, who is supplying the non-state actors with arms, logistics, who allowed them to get within striking range, which safeguards that would have prevented the attacks failed and were they deliberately failed, did the people in charge at the time get punished for their failure to thwart the attack, etc.


I suggest that you do no real research and just make stuff up. When a historian refutes your claim, refute the historian by showing how his past work on this issue has been one sided. When a non-biased historian refutes you, demand he propose an alternative interpretation. When he has done this, you have thus tricked him into doing the research you set out to accomplish while you personal didn't have to do any real work.


If It's Controversial,Why Teach It?

As good social studies educators, we know the importance of engaging students in lively discussions of controversial issues. We also know that it's a lot easier said than done. Teaching about issues that are controversial requires a lot of time, preparation, and in-depth study. Resources that will motivate students to learn, and are balanced and readable, are often hard to find or too expensive. And, of course, there is always the risk of offending a student, parent, or another colleague, which can end you up in the principal's office trying to explain why it is your job to help students explore issues that push people's buttons.
Given all these dangers and difficulties, why should we do it? In this article, I will argue that, despite the real difficulties just described, social studies educators must hold tight to the belief that teaching about issues that are controversial is a cornerstone of our professional responsibility. I believe that the raison d'etre of the social studies is to teach students the kind of substantive knowledge that will promote a deeper understanding of their social world. This means instilling the capacities to make thoughtful decisions and judgments, encouraging students to sustain democratic principles and participate in democratic processes, and creating habits that will fortify continued learning. The best way to promote these goals is to provide consistent opportunities for students to tackle controversial issues.

What's Different about Today
The call to devote more attention to teaching about controversial issues is certainly not new. Esteemed social studies educators, such as Edwin Fenton, Lawrence Metcalf, Hilda Taba, Anna Ochoa, Shirley Engle, and others, all advocated teaching the processes of inquiry that generate enduring questions, positive confusion, reflective thought, and an understanding of differences in values, priorities, and definitions of morality.
Teaching about controversial issues has been widely viewed as preparing students for effective citizenship. Learning the content and thinking skills necessary for students to make public policy decisions, operate successfully in a society to build consensus, and learn to negotiate and manage differences have been the bulkheads of the field.

So what's new or different about today? What are the pedagogical and societal issues of life in the 1990s that make it even more critical that young people engage in open and thoughtful discussion of issues that are controversial?

Pedagogical Imperatives
Important pedagogical reasons for the teaching of controversial issues are that research findings have shown it to be beneficial, that it helps students to think in depth, and that it enables students to identify and analyze their own values and those of others.

What the Research Can Tell Us. An examination of social educational research on the relationship between teaching controversial issues and the goals of citizen education provides a modest, yet significant, degree of confidence in the practice (Hahn 1991). Social educational research over the past twenty-five years supports the findings that

o Positive citizenship outcomes were associated with giving students opportunities to explore controversial issues in an open, supportive classroom atmosphere. Social studies courses without controversial issues had little or no effect on students' political interest or orientation towards participation. (Hahn 1991)
o Students who experienced more social studies courses, who reported higher degrees of controversial issues exposure, and whose responses on the Classroom Climate Scale were highest exhibited lower levels of cynicism, higher levels of sense of citizen duty, increased participation, and increased levels of political efficacy. (Ehman 1969)
o More reported exposure to controversial issues was associated with positive changes in attitudes in the form of increased levels of political interest, political confidence, and social integration. Students who recalled a wider range of views having been considered in their classrooms were:

  • more trusting in society
  • more socially integrated
  • more politically confident
  • more politically interested
  • more trusting of other students and school adults
  • more politically confident in regard to school decision-making, and
  • more interested in school-level politics.

o Students' perceptions of an open classroom climate were positively correlated with global attitudes, with political efficacy, political confidence, and political interest. (Blankenship 1990)
o An increase in discussion, particularly discussion initiated by students, was related to beliefs that people can successfully affect their political system. (Zevin 1983)

Encouraging Students to Think. Teaching about issues that are controversial requires in-depth study over a substantial period of time. That cannot happen in an atmosphere where teachers and students are valued for assessment results that reflect rote regurgitation of the facts and low levels of thinking.

A major problem facing the teaching of controversial issues arises from curricular practices that give priority to breadth of coverage of facts rather than in-depth study of issues. The recent content standards developed by special interest groups will, if anything, reinforce the tendency to give priority to the broad coverage of facts and dates. The problem of attempting to cover too much was aptly described by James Leming in a 1994 review of CIVITAS, a 650-page framework for civic education. According to Leming:

There is no question that substantive knowledge is an essential ingredient of the learning process, for it is useless, and even impossible, to learn how to think unless there is something important to think about. A practical way of acquiring information and encouraging thinking skills at the same time is to connect the learning of facts to the study of controversial issues. Information becomes meaningful when it is part of a study given focus and direction by inquiry into a specified issue.

Teaching about Values. Subjects are controversial, in part, because they address basic questions of identity and worth-who am I (or who are we), how should we judge others, and how should we judge ourselves? These questions are highly subjective and depend, to a great extent, on one's view of the world and one's values. Values are the lenses through which events and knowledge are interpreted and transmitted. It is impossible to learn about the reality and drama of the past, present, and future without understanding the role played by values.

Teaching about issues that are controversial is a responsible and appropriate way for students to learn about values and to study value conflicts. It is also a responsible and appropriate way to teach students to prize certain values and behave in ways that reflect these values.

Teaching about values is less difficult than teaching values. The goal is not to pass judgment but to help students gain a deeper understanding of others' values, as well as their own. Through the study of issues that are controversial, students come into contact with multiple perspectives-questions of values, how they are defined, how they shape behavior, and how and why they clash. Textbooks and data bases can and do teach students to answer the questions of what, when, and who? But it is teachers who move students beyond the basic facts to a deeper and necessary understanding of the whys of the world and the so whats. These are the real questions worth educators' time and expertise.

Deciding what values to teach, and when and how to do it, is a far more difficult task. It is difficult, in part, because "good" values come into conflict with each other when they encounter real-life situations. Teaching certain values is also difficult because the process of socialization that may be appropriate (and supported by parents) at the earlier grades is often not suitable for older students. Still, I am an advocate of the belief that there are certain values that should be taught and reinforced in the classroom. I have no problem teaching students the values of peace and justice, the dignity of the individual, and the importance of worldwide democratic reforms.

Helping students learn certain values can be accomplished in two ways. One way, of course, is to engage students in a discussion of values in the context of teaching about issues and people that are controversial. There will be numerous opportunities for students to talk about their own views of the values being explored. A second way involves creating and maintaining the kind of classroom environment where certain values are promoted and protected. For example, a classroom designed to teach students to respect each other's views is one where

  • students share with adults in the process of making decisions that affect the school community
    rules exist and are abided by that promote the management of conflicts without the use of verbal or physical abuse
  • students learn the skills of active listening and the habits of engaging in civil discourse with one another and,
  • students feel free and safe to take risks, question one another, and feel cared for.

Social and Other Issues
There is no lack of important current issues for discussion in the social studies classroom. Among the most important are the rise of multiculturalism, the nature of the post-Cold War world, the culture of violence, and the proliferation of television and radio "talk-show" programs.

The Rise of Multiculturalism. According to a recent Washington Post article (Rich 1995), the Census Bureau reported that ". after a surge in immigration [legal and illegal] over the past 20 years the foreign-born population of the United States reached 22.6 million people in 1994, making up 8.7 percent of the total population, the highest proportion since World War II and nearly double the percentage in 1970." This development partly explains the increased tensions in American society and the political, social, and economic hostilities associated with growing pluralism and, some would argue, the fragmentation of the country.

In addition to the numbers and changing demographics of the new immigrants, minorities in America (really majorities in many communities) are much more visible today. If the recent controversy over the U.S. history standards is any indication, there is great disagreement over questions of whose stories should be included in the curriculum and whose should be left out. African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics, in particular, are demanding a greater voice in all aspects of American society. Because questions of what content is of most worth and what perspectives should be transmitted to the young drive what is taught in the classroom, it is understandable that the social studies curriculum has become a battleground. Today, more than at any other time in America's recent past, it is critically important that communities understand the role culture plays in defining one's identity. The continuing struggle for acknowledgment and inclusion is one that cannot be ignored.

At the heart of this controversial issue is the age-old debate over the myth and reality of the American Dream. The question of assimilation v. pluralism is witnessed daily in such conflicts as the movement to require "English only" or to have bilingual education programs in controversies over college admissions and hiring policies and practices and in debates between advocates and opponents of language that is "politically correct." Racial, religious, ethnic, gender, generational, and economic class divisions are real in American society. Classrooms are all too often places where these difficult and delicate divisions result in verbal as well as violent confrontations.

Teaching about issues that are controversial provides today's students with opportunities to understand the factors that influence how perspectives are developed and how knowledge is constructed. James A. Banks, a leader in the field of multicultural education, points out:

The Nature of the Post-Cold War World. Today's world is experiencing a series of dramatic and rapid changes unparalleled in human history. While scholars and policymakers may disagree about the nature and future development of the post-Cold War world, most agree we are living in a time of increasingly complex and rapid changes in global, national, and local political, economic, and social conditions. More people in formal and informal institutions are interconnected in more and new ways. This growing interdependence is reflected in increased international trade and economic dependencies, the porousness of political borders-as witnessed by the spread of AIDS and the effects of environmental disasters and growing numbers of refugees and displaced persons-and mass communications through advanced technologies. There is simply no way to escape the reality that individuals, groups, nations, states, and international organizations are affected, albeit unequally, by increasingly complex and rapid changes occurring at all levels of society.

Most, if not all, of these changes involve varying degrees and types of conflict. Clashes over territory natural and human resources the status and autonomy of ethnic, religious, and national identities struggles over political power and issues of governance and the control and distribution of economic resources touch people everywhere. There is a growing sense of increasing economic competition. Sometimes an intrastate conflict, as witnessed in the Balkans, can rage violently for years. The question for social studies educators is how we can best help students become conscious of these changes and relate to them in ways that both prepare them for their future and diminish their feelings of confusion and hopelessness.

As is the case with teaching about different cultures, it is important for teachers to emphasize that perspectives and culture are socially constructed. In unraveling a controversial issue, the search for answers often leads to more questions. There are questions related to historical events or who did what to whom and when. Claims to a homeland in the Middle East, for example, look very different depending on whether one is a Palestinian or an Israeli. In this case, a great deal of time has been spent debating the truth of God's will. Where does one look for the answer? The Old Testament, the Koran, and/or thousands of years of history? The stories of all the parties (winners, losers, victims, heroes, and heroines) only begin to make up the fabric of the larger picture.

Teaching about controversial issues also involves teaching about values. What is cherished in a society drives human behavior, and because questions of what and whose values are at the heart of conflicts, they play an instrumental role in understanding causes and possible resolutions. Therefore, teaching about controversial issues involves making judgments, for citizens ultimately become advocates. The goal is to inform the decisions that eventually must be made, whether the issue is the future of affirmative action or how the U.S. should act to assist the peace process in the Middle East. These realities, and the accompanying demands on the citizenry, require that social studies educators make special and continual efforts to help students understand the roots of conflicts and learn about ways to manage them constructively.

Teaching topics that are controversial is both about the content of the issues as well as the processes of engaging in critical thinking. For example, take the following issue: "Has the world become a more dangerous place since the end of the Cold War?" Just think about all the things you need to learn to arrive at even a tentative answer! How should the idea of "dangerous" be defined? What history from the Cold War period needs to be explored to judge the danger and violence experienced by the people in North and South Korea, Vietnam, Angola, Afghanistan, or Nicaragua? How should that history of "danger" be compared to current conflicts in the Balkans, Rwanda, and Guatemala? And how do we compare and contrast the differing perspectives, analyze and evaluate the data found, and make judgments about current and future public policies that would be consistent with our findings and the answer we chose? To address these questions, it is essential to engage in careful and reflective thought about the information gathered and perspectives explored.

Working at the United States Institute of Peace has provided me with important insights about how to approach issues related to the increasing complexity and rapid change occurring in all regions of the world. History and social science textbooks often describe, but do not explain, the causes of conflicts and the wars that result. What are not included are the many times in history and today when conflict has been managed successfully and violence has been ended and even been prevented. Today, there are thousands of individuals and hundred of groups, representing governments, non-governmental and international organizations, and transnational civic groups, that are working successfully to prevent and manage conflict. Yet continuous and successful peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace-building efforts are rarely the subjects of study in the social studies classroom.

Take, for example, the move toward a multiparty democracy in South Africa, the slow but steady process to bring the violence in Northern Ireland to an end, and even the rocky progress being made in the Middle East. Positive changes are happening, and the realities of the Post-Cold War era are not all bad. By examining these controversial issues in the classroom, it is possible to provide students with concrete examples of positive efforts to prevent and stop violence. By studying models of successful efforts to manage conflict without violence, social studies classrooms can provide students with evidence that there are other ways to resolve conflict in their own lives. Conflict is not the same thing as violence, for people all over the world are learning to manage their differences. And while these successes do not often make the nightly news, they do offer tremendous opportunities to focus on peaceful solutions.

The Culture of Violence. It is estimated that there are close to 120 violent international and intrastate conflicts around the world (Gurr 1993). In addition, while some types of violent crime in the United States seem to be stabilizing or even decreasing in certain areas, there is no question that the increasing violence in our own society is having a devastating impact on children, schools, families, and communities. Guns have replaced spit-balls in some classrooms: add to this the lure of money from the sale of drugs and the pernicious sense of hopelessness in the future, and there is a real danger of increased loss of life. Violence, graphically depicted on increasingly popular television shows and in movies, serves to glorify and reinforce the use of force to manage conflict. As the culture of violence continues, the danger exists that more individuals and communities will arm themselves (and build bigger fences), and that will require Herculean efforts to teach and promote the use of non-violent approaches to managing differences.

I hesitate to advocate the teaching of controversial issues as a means to prevent violence in the school or community. Schools alone cannot possibly solve conflicts that are rooted in families, communities, and institutions. However, to begin to break the cycle of violence that often appears to permeate every aspect of our lives, it is essential to make efforts to reduce and prevent violence in the school and community. Social studies classrooms can contribute greatly to the exploration of ways people can handle their anger, frustrations, and disappointments without the use of violence. The question is not one of teaching students to avoid conflict, for conflict and controversy are simply a part of human relationships. We all live in a world where beliefs, ideas, needs, and wants differ among people and societies. While conflict is not a "bad" thing, it is wrong to resort to abuse, violence, and intimidation.

Studying controversial issues in the social studies classroom can provide a platform for the use of teaching strategies that increase students' knowledge about the real world of conflict and ways people have avoided and can avoid violent confrontations to find common ground. Learning how to constructively deal with controversial issues in the social studies classroom can be a bridge helping students deal with the conflict that touches their own lives.

Don't Confuse Me with the Facts. In the last decade there has been an explosion in the number and political bent of television and radio talk/call-in shows. Many of these shows are nothing more than "food fights" providing ample opportunity for diatribes and few chances for the in-depth investigation of reliable evidence or presentation of contrary points of view. Shows with a particularly strident ideological, political, economic, or social agenda are more entertainment than education, and I fear we are losing our ability to know the difference. Controversial issues, as presented in the media, are usually dealt with at a purely emotional level, often with little attention paid to an examination of evidence. With the exception of the kind of media program discussed in the next section, I am far from confident that the "airwaves" contribute substantially to the public's abilities to engage in an informed dialogue.

It is understandable that everyone yearns for simple answers and solutions to the many conflicts that face this country and the larger world. Yet the truth is that there are no simple answers, because the political, economic, and social questions that underlie conflicts are extremely complex. In a society that values free speech, it becomes even more important that individuals have the dispositions and capacities to judge fact from fiction.

Teaching about controversial issues in the social studies classroom provides a forum for looking into difficult and complex questions that have endured through time and across cultures. It also provides a safe place for students to try out their ideas and practice participation in constructive and intellectually sound conversation. As advanced information technologies proliferate, it becomes increasingly critical that students learn how to evaluate and judge the quality of information.

The Talent of Promoting Informed Discussion
There are exceptions to the poor general quality of radio talk shows. In preparing this article, as I was pondering the problems of organizing effective classroom discussions, I realized I was half listening to a long-standing staple of the Washington, D.C., community, The Diane Rehm Show, which is an excellent model for teaching issues that are controversial. Broadcast two hours daily over National Public Radio member station WAMU-FM, this radio talk show reaches a weekly audience of about 130,000 in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area (the show has just gone national). The programs include in-depth interviews and call-ins on top news stories ranging from foreign policy to science and the arts, roundtable discussions, newsmaker interviews, and in-depth conversations with authors of newly released books.

I suspect that the things that fascinate Ms. Rehm are the same things social studies teachers find most stimulating and worthwhile in their own teaching. For example, in preparing a show on the question of sending U.S. military forces to Bosnia, Ms. Rehm begins by generating a number of critical issues for discussion. These might include such questions as, Is this action in the national security interests of the United States? What, if any, are the moral obligations of the United States to participate in this peacekeeping mission? What are the military objectives of the mission, and how will success or failure be determined? What are the financial and political costs of the mission? What are the potential costs of not participating in the mission?

Next comes the process of focusing the investigation and identifying a wide range of views to be "exposed" to the public for consideration and debate. As is the case with other issues that are controversial, there are no easily identifiable positions that can result in simple "yes or no" answers. Like colors of a spectrum that blend together between the various bands, finding the shades of the various complex arguments is both extremely difficult and intellectually rewarding. Although it is unrealistic to believe that all perspectives can be given equal in-depth treatment in the classroom or on The Diane Rehm Show, it is this aspect of the process that holds the most promise for real learning.

Once the most compelling questions have been identified, Ms. Rehm invites as guests men and women who have substantial experience with these critical issues. Each one takes a turn responding to her carefully formed questions while, playing the devil's advocate, Ms. Rehm teases-out the deeper layers represented in the views. Opportunities are provided for the guests to engage in discourse with one another while she facilitates a lively but civil conversation.

During the last twenty minutes, The Diane Rehm Show moves to the call-in portion, where John and Jane-Q-Public ask questions and present their own views. Ms. Rehm challenges all to think harder and make decisions and judgments necessary for policy selection and implementation. While substantive knowledge is essential to the learning process, its main function is to provide fuel for decision making and civic action. The Diane Rehm Show, just like effective social studies instruction, is about learning to form well-reasoned opinions about important public issues.

Conclusion
Teaching about controversial issues is not easy. I can remember my own social studies classes and my futile efforts to get students involved in what I considered to be the big issues of the day. I know the feeling of being all exercised about some current development in the world until looking over and seeing one (or several!) of my students struggling to stay awake, as if to say "please don't ask me to think today."
I continue to believe that teaching about issues that are controversial is the best way to achieve social studies educational goals and priorities. Given the societal and pedagogical imperatives of the mid-1990s, the costs to all of us are enormous if social studies education continues to be perceived (rightly or wrongly) as irrelevant, insignificant, mediocre, and boring. Renewed and persistent support by the social studies education profession for curriculum and instruction that promotes the teaching of issues that are controversial is long overdue. It is time to put all other disagreements aside and advance this priority.


The controversy of ⟾male hysteria'

For centuries, doctors readily diagnosed women with “hysteria,” an alleged mental health condition that explained away any behaviors or symptoms that made men…uncomfortable.

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A fondness of writing, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and even infertility — for the best part of two centuries, all of these and more could easily fall under the umbrella of “female hysteria.”

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, female hysteria was one of the most commonly diagnosed “disorders.” But the mistaken notion that women are somehow predisposed to mental and behavioral conditions is much older than that.

In fact, the term hysteria originated in Ancient Greece. Hippocrates and Plato spoke of the womb, hystera, which they said tended to wander around the female body, causing an array of physical and mental conditions.

But what was female hysteria supposed to be, what were its symptoms, how did doctors “treat” it, and when did they cease to diagnose it as a medical condition?

These are some of the questions that we answer in this Curiosities of Medical History feature.

While the original notions of female hysteria extend far into the history of medicine and philosophy, this diagnostic became popular in the 18th century.

In 1748, French physician Joseph Raulin described hysteria as a “vaporous ailment” — affection vaporeuse in French — an illness spread through air pollution in large urban areas.

While Raulin noted that both men and women could contract hysteria, women were, according to him, more predisposed to this ailment because of their lazy and irritable nature.

In a treatise published in 1770–1773, another French physician, François Boissier de Sauvages de Lacroix, describes hysteria as something akin to emotional instability, “subject to sudden changes with great sensibility of the soul.”

Some of the hysteria symptoms that he named included: “a swollen abdomen, suffocating angina [chest pain] or dyspnea [shortness of breath], dysphagia [difficulty swallowing], […] cold extremities, tears and laughter, oscitation [yawning], pandiculation [stretching and yawning], delirium, a close and driving pulse, and abundant and clear urine.”

De Sauvages agreed with his predecessors that this condition primarily affected women, and that “men are only rarely hysterical.”

According to him, sexual deprivation was often the cause of female hysteria. To illustrate this, he presented the case study of a nun affected by hysteria, who became cured only when a well-wishing barber took it upon himself to pleasure her.

Another means of “treating” instances of hysteria was through mesmerism, an alleged psychosomatic therapy popularized by Franz Anton Mesmer, a German doctor who was active in 18th-century Europe.

Mesmer believed that living beings were influenced by magnetism, an invisible current that ran through animals and humans, and whose imbalances or fluctuations could lead to health disruptions.

Mesmer alleged that he could act on this magnetic undercurrent and cure humans of various maladies, including hysteria.

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Throughout the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, there was perhaps even more talk of female hysteria and its potential causes.

Around the 1850s, American physician Silas Weir Mitchell, who had a special interest in hysteria, started promoting the “rest cure” as a “treatment” for this condition.

Rest cure involved lots of bed rest and strict avoidance of all physical and intellectual activity. Mitchell prescribed this treatment preferentially to women who he deemed as having hysteria.

By contrast, he would advise men with hysteria to engage in lots of outdoor exercise.

Mitchell famously prescribed the rest cure to the American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who found the experience so harrowing that she wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a psychological horror story that maps the slow psychological deterioration of a woman who is forced by her doctor, her husband, and her brother to follow this “treatment.”

In France, neuropsychiatrist Pierre Janet, who was most active between the 1880s and the early 1900s, argued that hysteria resulted from a person’s own warped perception of physical illness.

Janet wrote that hysteria was “a nervous disease” where “a dissociation of consciousness” took place, often characterized by symptoms such as somnambulism, the emergence of “double personalities,” and involuntary convulsions.

The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, also took an interest in hysteria , though his views on its causes fluctuate throughout his career.

He argued that hysteria was the conversion of psychological issues into physical symptoms, often with an element of erotic suppression.

At first, he suggested that symptoms of hysteria were caused by traumatic events, though later, he said that previous trauma was not necessary for hysteria to develop.

The 2011 rom-com Hysteria popularized the view that vibrators are tools meant to cure hysteria in female patients.

This story originates from an influential book of medical history: The Technology of Orgasm, by Rachel Maines, which first appeared in 1999.

Maines argued that, in the late 19th century, doctors would often treat female patients’ hysteria symptoms by manually stimulating their genitalia. According to her, the vibrator eventually emerged as a device that would save physicians some effort when treating their patients.

However, more recently, scholars argue that Maines’s perspective was inaccurate and that there was no evidence to support her theory.

The study paper that contradicts Maines’s theory states, “none of her English-language sources even mentions production of ‘paroxysms’ [a euphemism for orgasm] by massage or anything else that could remotely suggest an orgasm.”

Yet such stories and hypotheses emerged precisely because 19th-century medical treatises did emphasize the connection between female sexuality and hysteria.

Some 19th-century doctors infamously argued that problems within the genitalia could cause psychological problems in women — including hysteria.

For instance, Richard Maurice Bucke, a Canadian psychiatrist active in the late 19th century, opted to perform invasive surgery, such as hysterectomies — where doctors remove the uterus — to “cure” female patients of mental illnesses.

Therefore, for a long time, hysteria remained an umbrella term that included numerous and widely different symptoms, reinforcing harmful stereotypes about sex and gender.

While this “condition” is no longer recognized and started to “fall out of fashion” in the 20th century, this was actually a long and unsteady process.

The first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-I) of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) — published in 1952 — did not list hysteria as a mental health condition.

Yet it reappeared in the DSM-II in 1968, before the APA dropped it again in the DSM-III, in 1980.

Time and again, researchers of medical history point to evidence that hysteria was little more than a way to describe and pathologize “everything that men found mysterious or unmanageable in women.”

And while medical practices have evolved incomparably over the past couple of centuries, investigations still reveal that data about females are often scarce in medical studies.

In turn, this continues to impact whether they receive correct diagnoses and treatments, suggesting that society and medical research have a long way to go to ensure all demographics get the best chance at appropriate healthcare.


How to Trace Federal Regulations – A Research Guide

This post is co-written by Anne Guha, who was an intern with the Law Library’s Public Services Division this spring and is now working in Public Services, and Barbara Bavis, legal reference specialist.

Our patrons at the Law Library of Congress frequently ask us for assistance in investigating the origins and statutory authority of federal rules and regulations.  And no wonder–regulations are important to understand, because they have the force and effect of law just as federal statutes do, though they are not issued by Congress.  Instead, rules and regulations are created by a federal body such as an agency, board, or commission, and explain how that body intends to carry out or administer a federal law.  In fact, these rules and regulations can often affect our everyday lives even more directly than statutes, by laying out the details of how we go about following the laws passed by Congress. This Research Guide will address the basics of how to “trace” a federal regulation, in order to not only derive its statutory authority, but also to learn more about its origins and history.

Beginning with the Code of Federal Regulations

Government Care vs. Government Neglect. Published by Keppler & Schwarzmann. 1913. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.27917.

Researchers generally begin with a rule or regulation of interest from the Code of Federal Regulations, or CFR.   The CFR is “the codification of the general and permanent rules…by the departments and agencies of the Federal Government.”  The CFR has 50 Titles, each focusing on a subject area (Agriculture, Labor, etc.), which are then broken down into Chapters (often named for the agency that issued the rules included), Subchapters, Parts, and sometimes Subparts, before coming down to individual rules or “sections.”  Some Titles are fairly brief, spanning only a single slim volume, while others can run as many as twenty volumes long.  A citation to the CFR — for example 󈬉 CFR 531.1” — tells you first the Title of the CFR in which your rule is located (in this example, that’s Title 25), and then gives you the section number within that Title where your rule appears (here, that’s section 531.1, which is located in Part 531).

If you’ve seen the CFR in print on the shelves of a law library, you may have noticed that these softcover volumes have spines in multiple colors.  The color of the spine helps to indicate at-a-glance when the CFR volumes were printed or updated, which is done cyclically throughout the year: Titles 1-16 of the CFR are revised as of January 1 Titles 17-27 are revised as of April 1 Titles 28-41 are revised as of July 1 and Titles 42-50 are revised as of October 1.  A monthly publication called the List of CFR Sections Affected, or LSA, cumulatively “lists proposed, new, and amended Federal regulations that have been published…since the most recent revision date of a CFR title,” to provide updated information between revisions of the CFR.

You can locate federal regulations in a variety of sources, including:

  • On the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR) website, an editorial compilation of currently updated federal regulations.
  • Via the Government Printing Office’s Federal Digital System (FDSys) website, under the headings Code of Federal Regulations (1996-present) and List of CFR Sections Affected (1997-present).
  • In the catalog of a library, particularly if that library is a part of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP).  To find a federal depository library in your area, visit the FDLP website, and click the “Locate a Federal Depository Library Near You” link towards the upper-right hand corner, under “Quick Links.” On the next page, choose your state and browse through the list of libraries available near your location.

Once you have located a CFR section of interest to you, you are ready to move on to the next steps.

Statutory Authority: Authority Notes

In order for a federal agency, board, or commission to issue a rule or regulation with the force and effect of law, it must derive that authority from an explicit grant of power by Congress.  Because Congress cannot be an expert on all the details of all things, it will often pass a statute that provides a general directive, then grant an administrative body or agency the “regulatory authority” to issue rules and regulations based on that law.  The regulations passed by the agency will “specify the details and requirements necessary to implement and to enforce legislation enacted by Congress.”  Sometimes Congress will require that the agency must issue regulations on a topic, and at other times it may simply grant the agency the discretion to decide whether a rule or regulation is needed.  In either case, granting regulatory authority to a federal agency takes advantage of that agency’s subject matter expertise on a particular topic or issue, and also provides a mechanism for the law to more easily adapt and respond to change, since federal regulations can often be updated more quickly than federal statutes.

If you are interested in researching the statutory authority of a regulation (for which you already have a CFR citation), you will want to start by locating the “authority note(s)” that apply to your section of interest. You can typically find an authority note at the beginning of a larger unit of the CFR, such as at the beginning of a Part (after the initial listing of the sections contained in that Part) and/or at the beginning of each Subpart.  An authority note will list the specific sections of a law passed by Congress that authorized the federal agency to promulgate the rules and regulations that follow.  It may cite the law in more than one way, by providing multiple citations to the same law in different sources.  For example, it may cite sections as they appear: in a particular named statute or Act, in a law’s Public Law, or in the pages of the Statutes at Large or the United States Code.[1]

Regulatory History: Source Notes

Federal regulations are promulgated through a process referred to as the “rulemaking process.”  During this process, federal regulations are published in two primary sources: the CFR, discussed previously, and the Federal Register.  The Federal Register is the official daily publication of the United States Government.  It is published daily Monday through Friday and “contains Presidential documents, proposed, interim, and final rules and regulations, and notices of hearings, decisions, investigations and committee meetings . “[2]  Federal rules and regulations usually appear at least twice in the Federal Register – once as a proposed rule, to provide the public with notice and with an opportunity to comment on the proposed rule, and again as the final version of the rule.  Therefore, to learn more about a rule or regulation’s history and origins, researchers generally want to trace the rule back from the CFR to where it appears in the Federal Register.

To figure out where a rule or regulation was published in the Federal Register, you will want to find that rule’s “source note(s)” in the CFR.  A source note typically appears at the beginning of a larger unit of the CFR, such as a Part or Subpart, and may also appear in brackets following a particular provision.  In either case, it will generally provide you with one or more citations to the Federal Register.  A citation to the Federal Register–for example 󈬽 FR 58945, Sept. 25, 2012”–gives you several pieces of information, including the volume number (in this example, the citation refers you to volume 77), the page number of that volume (here, page number 58945), and the date of the issue of the Federal Register where the publication of the rule appears (here, September 25th, 2012).

Once you have a citation, you can locate the Federal Register in various sources, including:

  • The Government Printing Office’s Federal Digital System (FDSys) website, under the heading Federal Register (1994-present). , an unofficial web edition (also known as “Federal Register 2.0″ or “FR2″), which was built to be easier to read and navigate than the Federal Register in print (1994-present).  It also includes links to related material.
  • The catalog of a library, particularly a federal depository library.  See above to find a FDLP library in your area.

Generally speaking, the citation you will find in the source notes will lead you to that rule or regulation’s “final rule” publication.[3]  The source note citation will likely take you to the precise page in the Federal Register where your specific rule appears, which, unfortunately, will not provide you with any information about the rule’s purpose and context.  To find this information, you will want to flip back to the beginning of the final rule and find a section called the “preamble” (fair warning, for very long rules, the preamble can be located a hundred or more pages before the page on which your provision appears).  The preamble will include a summary of the rule, a statement of “the basis and purpose” of that rule, the rule’s effective date (or applicability date), the legal authority for issuing the rule, how the CFR will be amended or changed to reflect the new rule, and other essential pieces of information.  The preamble will also frequently include a great deal of background information about the rule, such as a description of the problem the rule was designed to address, an explanation of how the rule was intended to address that problem, a summary of what public commenters had to say when the rule was proposed, descriptions of any studies or analysis the agency might have done before putting the rule into place, and much more.

For many researchers, finding the final rule notice in the Federal Register is the end goal, due to the extensive information often provided here about that rule and why it was passed.   Some researchers are interested in finding the proposed rule that predated this final rule.  To do so, simply look to the “Background” section of the final rule notice to find either a Federal Register citation to, or information about the issuance date of, the proposed rule.  If, for any reason, this information is not included in the final rule notice, researchers can use the “Docket Number,” provided at the beginning of the final rule notice, to do a search for the proposed rule notice.

Depending on your research project, next steps might include contacting the office or agency who promulgated the rule for even more information.  In the final rule notice, you might notice various pieces of information such as a Regulation Identifier Number (RIN), agency or docket number, and/or document number, under which additional documents related to the rule (such as impact statements or economic analyses) may have been organized.  Some agencies will make these types of documents available to the public upon request.

For More Information

For more information about how to conduct research regarding rules and regulations using the CFR and the Federal Register, you might consider visiting these free online resources:

    , from the Office of Management and Budget, provides a chart that gives a graphical overview of the “informal rulemaking” process , U.S. Legal.com

We hope this Research Guide is helpful as you complete your federal legislative research.  If you have any research questions, please contact us via our Ask a Librarian service.

[1] For more information on understanding federal statutes and the U.S. Code, including where you can find these sources in print and online, we suggest reviewing our previous post, “Federal Statutes: A Beginner’s Guide.”  To learn how to trace those laws, such as to begin legislative history research, we suggest next viewing our post on tracing federal legislation.

[3] Occasionally, the citation you find in the source note leads not to the final publication of the rule, but rather to a notice that the rule has been relocated or re-codified.  This indicates that your rule used to appear at a different position in the CFR, and was moved to its current position at a later time.  Such changes to the CFR, including such moves or re-codifications, are noted in the Federal Register, and cited in the source note to allow researchers to trace it back to its original position in the CFR.  Therefore, you will need locate the rule as it originally appeared in the CFR–prior to its move or re-codification–to find the source note leading to the rule’s ‘final publication” in the Federal Register.  Simply use the information given about the rule’s move or re-codification to look up the rule in its old position in the previous year’s CFR.  You may also find helpful information about relocated rules in the LSA for that year.

6 Comments

Happy Thanksgiving! And thank you for all the great info! I’ve copied/pasted/and saved shortcuts for futrue reference!!

This is a terrific source that clearly sets out a process that’s increasingly important and information that’s hard to find – thank you so much!

Why no information on how to research the Federal Acquisition Regulation. I seems like an oversight.

Hi Kevin – You might be interested in viewing one of our previous Beginner’s Guides, “Government Contracts: A Beginner’s Guide,” at //blogs.loc.gov/law/2013/06/government-contracts-a-beginners-guide/, for more information about Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARs).

How can I find outdated CFRs? For example, I am seeking the CFRs from 1952 that related to Aliens and Nationality. Thanks

Hi Kevin! Our historical collection of the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) can be found on the Library of Congress website at //www.loc.gov/collections/code-of-federal-regulations/about-this-collection/. To find the 1952 edition of Title 8 of the C.F.R., try this search: http://go.usa.gov/xVuFV. For further questions, please do not hesitate to use our “Ask a Librarian” service, at //www.loc.gov/rr/askalib/ask-law.html.

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European history research paper topics

European history is also a rather popular direction. Many young people are looking for easy research paper topics on AP European history to prepare a good project for Advanced Placement. Sometimes students struggle to find the research area because there are many European countries with a unique culture, political, and economic background. If you find yourself in the same situation, don&rsquot worry! The examples below can simplify your task. Let&rsquos start with Medieval & Renaissance Europe topics:

  • Dark Ages
  • Reformation
  • Byzantine Empire
  • Medieval economic history
  • Knights and knighthood
  • Courtly love
  • Medieval church
  • Women in the Middle Ages
  • Women in the Renaissance
  • Black Death (Black Plague)
  • Medieval philosophy
  • Medieval universities
  • Papal monarchy
  • Medieval law
  • Justinian I (Byzantine emperor)
  • Crusades
  • Medieval warfare
  • Hundred Years War
  • Islamic Empire

Here are more good European history research paper topics:

  • Age of Reason
  • Enlightenment
  • Crimean War
  • Rothschild dynasty
  • Revolutions of 1848
  • Christopher Columbus and his outstanding discoveries
  • Thirty Years&rsquo War (1618-1648)
  • The Medicis dynasty
  • Congress of Vienna
  • Reformation
  • Industrial Revolution
  • Eighteenth-Century Europe
  • Napoleonic Wars

Interesting European history research paper topics on World War I:

  • Lawrence, T. E. (Lawrence of Arabia)
  • Gallipoli Campaign
  • World War I diplomatic history
  • Causes of World War I
  • Treaty of Versailles
  • War propaganda
  • The main battles of World War I

Good topics for a European history research paper on World War II:

  • Lawrence, T. E. (Lawrence of Arabia)
  • Gallipoli Campaign
  • World War I diplomatic history
  • Causes of World War I
  • Treaty of Versailles
  • War propaganda
  • The main battles of World War I

Good topics for a European history research paper on World War II:

  • Allied occupation of Germany
  • Katyn Forest Massacre
  • Blitzkrieg
  • Propaganda of Joseph Goebbels
  • Jewish resistance during the Holocaust
  • World War II causes
  • World War II naval history
  • Nazi Germany
  • Children in the Holocaust
  • World War II War correspondents
  • Nuremberg trials
  • World War II Eastern front
  • World War II home front
  • Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors)
  • Allied occupation of Japan
  • Holocaust survivors
  • World War II air warfare
  • German resistance to Hitler
  • Atlantic Wall
  • World War II letters and diaries
  • Atrocities of Gestapo
  • Battle of Britain
  • The biggest concentration camps
  • World War II diplomatic history
  • Battle of the Bulge
  • Appeasement of Hitler

Teaching Controversial Issues in History

Il Seminario "Comprendere il passato mediante il presente, comprendere il presente mediante il passato" è promosso da Clio ’92, IRIS (Insegnamento e Ricerca Interdisciplinare di Storia), LANDIS (Laboratorio nazionale per la didattica della storia, Sezione didattica dell’Istituto per la storia e le memorie del ‘900 Parri Emilia-Romagna) e Portare il Mondo a Scuola, in collaborazione con Archivio Bergamasco Centro studi e ricerche bibliografiche, Azienda di Servizi alla Persona (ASP) Golgi-Redaelli, BBN (Torino) e Unione Femminile Nazionale.
Si svolge fra le 14.30 e le 16.30 del 13 marzo 2017, nel Salone dell’Unione Femminile Nazionale, in Corso di Porta Nuova 32, a Milano.

Il Seminario rientra nell’ambito della terza edizione 2016-2017 (Quale lavoro tra ieri e domani) del Progetto pluriennale Milanosifastoria (MSFS), promossa da Comune di Milano e Rete MSFS, in collaborazione con Archivio di Stato di Milano, Circolo Filologico Milanese, Civica Scuola di Cinema Luchino Visconti – Fondazione Milano, Soprintendenza archivistica e bibliografica della Lombardia e Ufficio Scolastico Regionale (USR) per la Lombardia – Ambito Territoriale di Milano con il patrocinio del Dipartimento di Pedagogia dell’Università Cattolica di Milano, del Dipartimento di Studi storici dell’Università degli Studi di Milano e del FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano) – Presidenza Regionale Lombardia in gemellaggio con la Festa Internazionale della Storia di Bologna con il contributo di BPM (Banca Popolare di Milano) e Fondazione Cariplo.

Ai saluti dei soggetti promotori e alla presentazione del Seminario (Maurizio Gusso), seguono le comunicazioni di Marilena Salvarezza ("La storia che stiamo vivendo: si può/si deve insegnare?"), Marina Medi ("Leggere la complessità del presente per affrontare lo studio del passato") e Antonella Olivieri ("Strumenti per leggere la complessità del presente") e il dibattito conclusivo.

Il Seminario "Comprendere il passato mediante il presente, comprendere il presente mediante il passato" è promosso da Clio ’92, IRIS (Insegnamento e Ricerca Interdisciplinare di Storia), LANDIS (Laboratorio nazionale per la didattica della storia, Sezione didattica dell’Istituto per la storia e le memorie del ‘900 Parri Emilia-Romagna) e Portare il Mondo a Scuola, in collaborazione con Archivio Bergamasco Centro studi e ricerche bibliografiche, Azienda di Servizi alla Persona (ASP) Golgi-Redaelli, BBN (Torino) e Unione Femminile Nazionale.
Si svolge fra le 14.30 e le 16.30 del 13 marzo 2017, nel Salone dell’Unione Femminile Nazionale, in Corso di Porta Nuova 32, a Milano.

Il Seminario rientra nell’ambito della terza edizione 2016-2017 (Quale lavoro tra ieri e domani) del Progetto pluriennale Milanosifastoria (MSFS), promossa da Comune di Milano e Rete MSFS, in collaborazione con Archivio di Stato di Milano, Circolo Filologico Milanese, Civica Scuola di Cinema Luchino Visconti – Fondazione Milano, Soprintendenza archivistica e bibliografica della Lombardia e Ufficio Scolastico Regionale (USR) per la Lombardia – Ambito Territoriale di Milano con il patrocinio del Dipartimento di Pedagogia dell’Università Cattolica di Milano, del Dipartimento di Studi storici dell’Università degli Studi di Milano e del FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano) – Presidenza Regionale Lombardia in gemellaggio con la Festa Internazionale della Storia di Bologna con il contributo di BPM (Banca Popolare di Milano) e Fondazione Cariplo.

Ai saluti dei soggetti promotori e alla presentazione del Seminario (Maurizio Gusso), seguono le comunicazioni di Marilena Salvarezza ("La storia che stiamo vivendo: si può/si deve insegnare?"), Marina Medi ("Leggere la complessità del presente per affrontare lo studio del passato") e Antonella Olivieri ("Strumenti per leggere la complessità del presente") e il dibattito conclusivo.


The 30 Most Disturbing Human Experiments in History

Disturbing human experiments aren’t something the average person thinks too much about. Rather, the progress achieved in the last 150 years of human history is an accomplishment we’re reminded of almost daily. Achievements made in fields like biomedicine and psychology mean that we no longer need to worry about things like deadly diseases or masturbation as a form of insanity. For better or worse, we have developed more effective ways to gather information, treat skin abnormalities, and even kill each other. But what we are not constantly reminded of are the human lives that have been damaged or lost in the name of this progress. The following is a list of the 30 most disturbing human experiments in history.

30. The Tearoom Sex Study

Image Source Sociologist Laud Humphreys often wondered about the men who commit impersonal sexual acts with one another in public restrooms. He wondered why “tearoom sex” — fellatio in public restrooms — led to the majority of homosexual arrests in the United States. Humphreys decided to become a “watchqueen” (the person who keeps watch and coughs when a cop or stranger get near) for his Ph.D. dissertation at Washington University. Throughout his research, Humphreys observed hundreds of acts of fellatio and interviewed many of the participants. He found that 54% of his subjects were married, and 38% were very clearly neither bisexual or homosexual. Humphreys’ research shattered a number of stereotypes held by both the public and law enforcement.

29. Prison Inmates as Test Subjects

Image Source In 1951, Dr. Albert M. Kligman, a dermatologist at the University of Pennsylvania and future inventor of Retin-A, began experimenting on inmates at Philadelphia’s Holmesburg Prison. As Kligman later told a newspaper reporter, “All I saw before me were acres of skin. It was like a farmer seeing a field for the first time.” Over the next 20 years, inmates willingly allowed Kligman to use their bodies in experiments involving toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, skin creams, detergents, liquid diets, eye drops, foot powders, and hair dyes. Though the tests required constant biopsies and painful procedures, none of the inmates experienced long-term harm.

28. Henrietta Lacks

Image Source In 1955, Henrietta Lacks, a poor, uneducated African-American woman from Baltimore, was the unwitting source of cells which where then cultured for the purpose of medical research. Though researchers had tried to grow cells before, Henrietta’s were the first successfully kept alive and cloned. Henrietta’s cells, known as HeLa cells, have been instrumental in the development of the polio vaccine, cancer research, AIDS research, gene mapping, and countless other scientific endeavors. Henrietta died penniless and was buried without a tombstone in a family cemetery. For decades, her husband and five children were left in the dark about their wife and mother’s amazing contribution to modern medicine.

27. Project QKHILLTOP

Image Source In 1954, the CIA developed an experiment called Project QKHILLTOP to study Chinese brainwashing techniques, which they then used to develop new methods of interrogation. Leading the research was Dr. Harold Wolff of Cornell University Medical School. After requesting that the CIA provide him with information on imprisonment, deprivation, humiliation, torture, brainwashing, hypnoses, and more, Wolff’s research team began to formulate a plan through which they would develop secret drugs and various brain damaging procedures. According to a letter he wrote, in order to fully test the effects of the harmful research, Wolff expected the CIA to “make available suitable subjects.”

26. Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study

Image Source During World War II, malaria and other tropical diseases were impeding the efforts of American military in the Pacific. In order to get a grip, the Malaria Research Project was established at Stateville Penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois. Doctors from the University of Chicago exposed 441 volunteer inmates to bites from malaria-infected mosquitos. Though one inmate died of a heart attack, researchers insisted his death was unrelated to the study. The widely-praised experiment continued at Stateville for 29 years, and included the first human test of Primaquine, a medication still used in the treatment of malaria and Pneumocystis pneumonia.

25. Emma Eckstein and Sigmund Freud

Image Source Despite seeking the help of Sigmund Freud for vague symptoms like stomach ailments and slight depression, 27-year old Emma Eckstein was “treated” by the German doctor for hysteria and excessive masturbation, a habit then considered dangerous to mental health. Emma’s treatment included a disturbing experimental surgery in which she was anesthetized with only a local anesthetic and cocaine before the inside of her nose was cauterized. Not surprisingly, Emma’s surgery was a disaster. Whether Emma was a legitimate medical patient or a source of more amorous interest for Freud, as a recent movie suggests, Freud continued to treat Emma for three years.

24. Dr. William Beaumont and the Stomach

Image Source In 1822, a fur trader on Mackinac Island in Michigan was accidentally shot in the stomach and treated by Dr. William Beaumont. Despite dire predictions, the fur trader survived — but with a hole (fistula) in his stomach that never healed. Recognizing the unique opportunity to observe the digestive process, Beaumont began conducting experiments. Beaumont would tie food to a string, then insert it through the hole in the trader’s stomach. Every few hours, Beaumont would remove the food to observe how it had been digested. Though gruesome, Beaumont’s experiments led to the worldwide acceptance that digestion was a chemical, not a mechanical, process.

23. Electroshock Therapy on Children

Image Source In the 1960s, Dr. Lauretta Bender of New York’s Creedmoor Hospital began what she believed to be a revolutionary treatment for children with social issues — electroshock therapy. Bender’s methods included interviewing and analyzing a sensitive child in front of a large group, then applying a gentle amount of pressure to the child’s head. Supposedly, any child who moved with the pressure was showing early signs of schizophrenia. Herself the victim of a misunderstood childhood, Bender was said to be unsympathetic to the children in her care. By the time her treatments were shut down, Bender had used electroshock therapy on over 100 children, the youngest of whom was age three.

22. Project Artichoke

Image Source In the 1950s, the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence ran a series of mind control projects in an attempt to answer the question “Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature?” One of these programs, Project Artichoke, studied hypnosis, forced morphine addiction, drug withdrawal, and the use of chemicals to incite amnesia in unwitting human subjects. Though the project was eventually shut down in the mid-1960s, the project opened the door to extensive research on the use of mind-control in field operations.

21. Hepatitis in Mentally Disabled Children

Image Source In the 1950s, Willowbrook State School, a New York state-run institution for mentally handicapped children, began experiencing outbreaks of hepatitis. Due to unsanitary conditions, it was virtually inevitable that these children would contract hepatitis. Dr. Saul Krugman, sent to investigate the outbreak, proposed an experiment that would assist in developing a vaccine. However, the experiment required deliberately infecting children with the disease. Though Krugman’s study was controversial from the start, critics were eventually silenced by the permission letters obtained from each child’s parents. In reality, offering one’s child to the experiment was oftentimes the only way to guarantee admittance into the overcrowded institution.

20. Operation Midnight Climax

Image Source Initially established in the 1950s as a sub-project of a CIA-sponsored, mind-control research program, Operation Midnight Climax sought to study the effects of LSD on individuals. In San Francisco and New York, unconsenting subjects were lured to safehouses by prostitutes on the CIA payroll, unknowingly given LSD and other mind-altering substances, and monitored from behind one-way glass. Though the safehouses were shut down in 1965, when it was discovered that the CIA was administering LSD to human subjects, Operation Midnight Climax was a theater for extensive research on sexual blackmail, surveillance technology, and the use of mind-altering drugs on field operations.

19. Study of Humans Accidentally Exposed to Fallout Radiation

Image Source The 1954 “Study of Response of Human Beings exposed to Significant Beta and Gamma Radiation due to Fall-out from High-Yield Weapons,” known better as Project 4.1, was a medical study conducted by the U.S. of residents of the Marshall Islands. When the Castle Bravo nuclear test resulted in a yield larger than originally expected, the government instituted a top secret study to “evaluate the severity of radiation injury” to those accidentally exposed. Though most sources agree the exposure was unintentional, many Marshallese believed Project 4.1 was planned before the Castle Bravo test. In all, 239 Marshallese were exposed to significant levels of radiation.

18. The Monster Study

Image Source In 1939, University of Iowa researchers Wendell Johnson and Mary Tudor conducted a stuttering experiment on 22 orphan children in Davenport, Iowa. The children were separated into two groups, the first of which received positive speech therapy where children were praised for speech fluency. In the second group, children received negative speech therapy and were belittled for every speech imperfection. Normal-speaking children in the second group developed speech problems which they then retained for the rest of their lives. Terrified by the news of human experiments conducted by the Nazis, Johnson and Tudor never published the results of their “Monster Study.”

17. Project MKUltra

Image Source Project MKUltra is the code name of a CIA-sponsored research operation that experimented in human behavioral engineering. From 1953 to 1973, the program employed various methodologies to manipulate the mental states of American and Canadian citizens. These unwitting human test subjects were plied with LSD and other mind-altering drugs, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, and various forms of torture. Research occurred at universities, hospitals, prisons, and pharmaceutical companies. Though the project sought to develop “chemical […] materials capable of employment in clandestine operations,” Project MKUltra was ended by a Congress-commissioned investigation into CIA activities within the U.S.

16. Experiments on Newborns

Image Source In the 1960s, researchers at the University of California began an experiment to study changes in blood pressure and blood flow. The researchers used 113 newborns ranging in age from one hour to three days old as test subjects. In one experiment, a catheter was inserted through the umbilical arteries and into the aorta. The newborn’s feet were then immersed in ice water for the purpose of testing aortic pressure. In another experiment, up to 50 newborns were individually strapped onto a circumcision board, then tilted so that their blood rushed to their head and their blood pressure could be monitored.

15. The Aversion Project

Image Source In 1969, during South Africa’s detestable Apartheid era, thousands of homosexuals were handed over to the care of Dr. Aubrey Levin, an army colonel and psychologist convinced he could “cure” homosexuals. At the Voortrekkerhoogte military hospital near Pretoria, Levin used electroconvulsive aversion therapy to “reorientate” his patients. Electrodes were strapped to a patient’s upper arm with wires running to a dial calibrated from 1 to 10. Homosexual men were shown pictures of a naked man and encouraged to fantasize, at which point the patient was subjected to severe shocks. When Levin was warned that he would be named an abuser of human rights, he emigrated to Canada where he currently works at a teaching hospital.

14. Medical Experiments on Prison Inmates

Image Source Perhaps one benefit of being an inmate at California’s San Quentin prison is the easy access to acclaimed Bay Area doctors. But if that’s the case, then a downside is that these doctors also have easy access to inmates. From 1913 to 1951, Dr. Leo Stanley, chief surgeon at San Quentin, used prisoners as test subjects in a variety of bizarre medical experiments. Stanley’s experiments included sterilization and potential treatments for the Spanish Flu. In one particularly disturbing experiment, Stanley performed testicle transplants on living prisoners using testicles from executed prisoners and, in some cases, from goats and boars.

13. Sexual Reassignment

Image Source In 1965, Canadian David Peter Reimer was born biologically male. But at seven months old, his penis was accidentally destroyed during an unconventional circumcision by cauterization. John Money, a psychologist and proponent of the idea that gender is learned, convinced the Reimers that their son would be more likely to achieve a successful, functional sexual maturation as a girl. Though Money continued to report only success over the years, David’s own account insisted that he had never identified as female. He spent his childhood teased, ostracized, and seriously depressed. At age 38, David committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

12. Effect of Radiation on Testicles

Image Source Between 1963 and 1973, dozens of Washington and Oregon prison inmates were used as test subjects in an experiment designed to test the effects of radiation on testicles. Bribed with cash and the suggestion of parole, 130 inmates willingly agreed to participate in the experiments conducted by the University of Washington on behalf of the U.S. government. In most cases, subjects were zapped with over 400 rads of radiation (the equivalent of 2,400 chest x-rays) in 10 minute intervals. However, it was much later that the inmates learned the experiments were far more dangerous than they had been told. In 2000, the former participants settled a $2.4 million class-action settlement from the University.

11. Stanford Prison Experiment

Image Source Conducted at Stanford University from August 14-20, 1971, the Stanford Prison Experiment was an investigation into the causes of conflict between military guards and prisoners. Twenty-four male students were chosen and randomly assigned roles of prisoners and guards. They were then situated in a specially-designed mock prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. Those subjects assigned to be guards enforced authoritarian measures and subjected the prisoners to psychological torture. Surprisingly, many of the prisoners accepted the abuses. Though the experiment exceeded the expectations of all of the researchers, it was abruptly ended after only six days.

10. Syphilis Experiments in Guatemala

Image Source From 1946 to 1948, the United States government, Guatemalan president Juan José Arévalo, and some Guatemalan health ministries, cooperated in a disturbing human experiment on unwitting Guatemalan citizens. Doctors deliberately infected soldiers, prostitutes, prisoners, and mental patients with syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases in an attempt to track their untreated natural progression. Treated only with antibiotics, the experiment resulted in at least 30 documented deaths. In 2010, the United States made a formal apology to Guatemala for their involvement in these experiments.

9. Tuskegee Syphilis Study

Image Source In 1932, the U.S. Public Health Service began working with the Tuskegee Institute to track the natural progression of untreated syphilis. Six hundred poor, illiterate, male sharecroppers were found and hired in Macon County, Alabama. Of the 600 men, only 399 had previously contracted syphilis, and none were told they had a life threatening disease. Instead, they were told they were receiving free healthcare, meals, and burial insurance in exchange for participating. Even after Penicillin was proven an effective cure for syphilis in 1947, the study continued until 1972. In addition to the original subjects, victims of the study included wives who contracted the disease, and children born with congenital syphilis. In 1997, President Bill Clinton formally apologized to those affected by what is often called the “most infamous biomedical experiment in U.S. history.”

8. Milgram Experiment

In 1961, Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University, began a series of social psychology experiments that measured the willingness of test subjects to obey an authority figure. Conducted only three months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, Milgram’s experiment sought to answer the question, “Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders?” In the experiment, two participants (one secretly an actor and one an unwitting test subject) were separated into two rooms where they could hear, but not see, each other. The test subject would then read a series of questions to the actor, punishing each wrong answer with an electric shock. Though many people would indicate their desire to stop the experiment, almost all subjects continued when they were told they would not be held responsible, or that there would not be any permanent damage.

7. Infected Mosquitos in Towns

Image Source In 1956 and 1957, the United States Army conducted a number of biological warfare experiments on the cities of Savannah, Georgia and Avon Park, Florida. In one such experiment, millions of infected mosquitos were released into the two cities, in order to see if the insects could spread yellow fever and dengue fever. Not surprisingly, hundreds of researchers contracted illnesses that included fevers, respiratory problems, stillbirths, encephalitis, and typhoid. In order to photograph the results of their experiments, Army researchers pretended to be public health workers. Several people died as a result of the research.

6. Human Experimentation in the Soviet Union

Image Source Beginning in 1921 and continuing for most of the 21st century, the Soviet Union employed poison laboratories known as Laboratory 1, Laboratory 12, and Kamera as covert research facilities of the secret police agencies. Prisoners from the Gulags were exposed to a number of deadly poisons, the purpose of which was to find a tasteless, odorless chemical that could not be detected post mortem. Tested poisons included mustard gas, ricin, digitoxin, and curare, among others. Men and women of varying ages and physical conditions were brought to the laboratories and given the poisons as “medication,” or part of a meal or drink.

5. Human Experimentation in North Korea

Image Source Several North Korean defectors have described witnessing disturbing cases of human experimentation. In one alleged experiment, 50 healthy women prisoners were given poisoned cabbage leaves — all 50 women were dead within 20 minutes. Other described experiments include the practice of surgery on prisoners without anesthesia, purposeful starvation, beating prisoners over the head before using the zombie-like victims for target practice, and chambers in which whole families are murdered with suffocation gas. It is said that each month, a black van known as “the crow” collects 40-50 people from a camp and takes them to an known location for experiments.

4. Nazi Human Experimentation

Image Source Over the course of the Third Reich and the Holocaust, Nazi Germany conducted a series of medical experiments on Jews, POWs, Romani, and other persecuted groups. The experiments were conducted in concentration camps, and in most cases resulted in death, disfigurement, or permanent disability. Especially disturbing experiments included attempts to genetically manipulate twins bone, muscle, and nerve transplantation exposure to diseases and chemical gasses sterilization, and anything else the infamous Nazi doctors could think up. After the war, these crimes were tried as part of the Nuremberg Trial and ultimately led to the development of the Nuremberg Code of medical ethics.

3. Unit 731

Image Source From 1937 to 1945, the imperial Japanese Army developed a covert biological and chemical warfare research experiment called Unit 731. Based in the large city of Harbin, Unit 731 was responsible for some of the most atrocious war crimes in history. Chinese and Russian subjects — men, women, children, infants, the elderly, and pregnant women — were subjected to experiments which included the removal of organs from a live body, amputation for the study of blood loss, germ warfare attacks, and weapons testing. Some prisoners even had their stomachs surgically removed and their esophagus reattached to the intestines. Many of the scientists involved in Unit 731 rose to prominent careers in politics, academia, business, and medicine.

2. Radioactive Materials in Pregnant Women

Image Source Shortly after World War II, with the impending Cold War forefront on the minds of Americans, many medical researchers were preoccupied with the idea of radioactivity and chemical warfare. In an experiment at Vanderbilt University, 829 pregnant women were given “vitamin drinks” they were told would improve the health of their unborn babies. Instead, the drinks contained radioactive iron and the researchers were studying how quickly the radioisotope crossed into the placenta. At least seven of the babies later died from cancers and leukemia, and the women themselves experienced rashes, bruises, anemia, loss of hair and tooth, and cancer.


P.T. Barnum Isn’t the Hero the “Greatest Showman” Wants You to Think

Some five decades into his life, Phineas Taylor Barnum from Bethel, Connecticut, had remade himself from his humble beginnings as an impoverished country boy into a showman—indeed the “greatest showman,” as the new musical about his life would say—of his generation.

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Thanks to a combination of brilliant marketing tactics and less-than-upstanding business practices, Barnum had truly arrived, and with his book Humbugs of the World, in 1865, Barnum wanted to inform you, his audience, that he hadn’t achieved his rags-to-riches success story by scamming the public.

Barnum's career trafficked in curiosities, which he served up to a public hungry for such entertainment, regardless of how factual or ethical such displays were. His legacy in show business stretched from the American Museum to "P. T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome" (the predecessor of “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey” circus) near the end of his life. Each were full of bigger-than-life ideas marketed to an audience interested in mass, and often crass, entertainment.

As it was “generally understood,” Barnum wrote in the book, the term humbug “consists in putting on glittering appearances—outside show—novel expedients, by which to suddenly arrest public attention, and attract the public eye and ear.”  And Barnum wanted to make it clear such a practice was justified. “[T]here are various trades and occupations which need only notoriety to insure success,” he claimed, concluding no harm, no foul, so long as at the end of the day customers felt like they got their money’s worth.

Growing up in the antebellum North, Barnum took his first real dip into showmanship at age 25 when he purchased the right to “rent” an aged black woman by the name of Joice Heth, whom an acquaintance was trumpeting around Philadelphia as the 161-year-old former nurse of George Washington.

By this time, Barnum had tried working as a lottery manager, a shopkeeper and newspaper editor. He was living in New York City, employed at a boarding home and in a grocery store, and was hungry for a money-making gimmick.

"I had long fancied that I could succeed if I could only get hold of a public exhibition,” he reflected about his life at the time in his 1855 autobiography, The Life of P.T. Barnum, Written by Himself.

With Heth, he saw an opportunity to strike it rich. Though slavery was outlawed in Pennsylvania and New York at the time, a loophole allowed him to lease her for a year for $1,000, borrowing $500 to complete the sale.

In a  research paper  on Barnum and his legacy misrepresenting African peoples, Bernth Lindfors, professor emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin, aptly sums up significance of that dark transaction as the launching point of Barnum the showman— someone who “began his career in show business by going into debt to buy a superannuated female slave, who turned out to be a fraud."

It’s a story that The Greatest Showman, which presents Barnum as a smooth-talking Harold Hill-type lovable con, doesn’t address. Hugh Jackman’s Barnum would never be a person comfortable purchasing an enslaved woman to turn a tidy profit. “Rewrite the Stars,” indeed, to quote a song from the new movie.

As Benjamin Reiss, professor and chair of English at Emory University, and author of The Showman and The Slave, of Barnum, explains in an interview with Smithsonian.com, Barnum’s legacy has become a sort of cultural touchstone. “The story of his life that we choose to tell is in part the story that we choose to tell about American culture,” he says. “We can choose to erase things or dance around touchy subjects and present a kind of feel good story, or we can use it as an opportunity to look at very complex and troubling histories that our culture has been grappling with for centuries.”

That begins with Heth, Barnum’s first big break. It was while on tour with her when he observed a public hungry for spectacle. “Human curiosities, or lusus naturae—freaks of nature—were among the most popular traveling entertainments of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries,” Reiss explains in his book, but by the time Barnum went on tour with Heth, there was a shift. “[B]y the 1830s the display of grotesquely embodied human forms was for some populist carnivalesque entertainment and for others an offense to genteel sensibilities,” Reiss writes. So while the Jacksonian press in New York, “the vanguard of mass culture,” covered Heth’s shows breathlessly, he found while following Barnum’s paper trail that the more old-fashioned New England press bristled at the display. As the newspaper the Courier wrote cuttingly:

“Those who imagine they can contemplate with delight a breathing skeleton, subjected to the same sort of discipline that is sometimes exercised in a menagerie to induce the inferior animals to play unnatural pranks for the amusement of barren spectators, will find food to their taste by visiting Joice Heth.”

Still, with Heth, Barnum proved himself capable of being nimble enough to dip and swerve, playing up different stories of her to appeal to different audiences across the northeast.  Heth, of course, was not alive in George Washington’s time. Whether Barnum believed the fable frankly doesn’t really matter. While he later claimed he did, he wasn’t above making up his own myths about Heth to attract people to see her he once planted a story that claimed the enslaved woman wasn’t even a person at all. “What purports to be a remarkably old woman is simply a curiously constructed automaton,” he wrote.

When she  died in February 1836, rather than let her go in peace, Barnum had one more act up his sleeve: he drummed up a final public spectacle, hosting a live autopsy in a New York Saloon. There, 1500 spectators paid 50 cents to see the dead woman cut up, “revealing” that she was likely half her purported age.

After Heth, Barnum found several other acts to tour—notably the coup of getting the world-famous Jenny Lind, “the Swedish Nightingale,” to travel across the Atlantic to make her critically and popularly acclaimed American debut with him—until he became the proprietor of the American Museum in December 1841 in New York.

At the American Museum, more than 4,000 visitors poured per day to browse some 850,000 “interesting curiosities” at the price of 25 cents a trip. The fake and the real commingled in the space, with imported, exotic live animals mixing alongside hoaxes like the so-called Feejee mermaid, a preserved monkey’s head sewn onto the preserved tail of a fish.

Most uncomfortably, in the museum, Barnum continued to present “freakishness” in the form of “living curiosities.” One of the most popular displays featured a man billed as “a creature, found in the wilds of Africa. supposed to be a mixture of the wild native African and the orang outang, a kind of man-monkey.” The offensive poster concluded: “For want of a positive name, the creature was called ‘WHAT IS IT?’”

In truth, WHAT IS IT? was an African-American man named William Henry Johnson. Before coming to the show, he served as a cook for another showman in Barnum’s Connecticut hometown. Similar racial othering permeated the rest of Barnum’s “living curiosities,” from the “Aztec” children who were actually from El Salvador, to the real, but exoticized, “Siamese Twins,” Chang and Eng.

As James W. Cook, professor of history and American studies at the University of Michigan, argues in The Art of Deception: Playing with Fraud in the Age of Barnum, it was because of the “bipartisan mass audience” he built through such displays, which preyed on ideas of African inferiority and racial othering, that Barnum then decided to throw his hat into the political ring.

During his successful run for the Connecticut General Assembly in 1865 something changed, however. Suddenly, Cook writes, Barnum “began to express a novel sympathy and regret about the subjugation of African-Americans—or at least to approach civil rights matters at the end of the Civil War with a new, somewhat softer vision of racial paternalism.” During a failed run for Congress, he even “confessed” during a campaign speech that while living in the South he had owned slaves himself, actions he since regretted. “I did more,” he said. “I whipped my slaves. I ought to have been whipped a thousand times for this myself. But by then I was a Democrat—one of those nondescript Democrats, who are Northern men with Southern principles.”

It’s a powerful speech, but how much of his remorse was spin is hard to say. “With Barnum you never know if that’s part of the act or the contrition was genuine,” says Reiss. “People change and it’s possible he really did feel this, although throughout his career as a showman there were many episodes of exhibiting non-white people in degrading ways.”

With Heth at least, as Reiss says, he clearly viewed her as an opportunity and a piece of property at the beginning, something he bragged about constantly early in his career. But after he gained growing respectability following the Civil War, the story he so proudly boasted about changed.

That's because, when you break it down, as Reiss says, “he owned this woman, worked her for 10 to 12 hours a day near the end of her life, worked her to death and then, exploited her after death.” This history becomes, suddenly, an unsavory chapter for Barnum and so, Reiss says, there’s a shift in how he relays the story. He observes that his “narration gets shorter and shorter, more and more apologetic to the end.” Barnum’s later retelling rewrites history, as Reiss says, it “makes it seem like he didn’t quite know what he was doing and this was just a little blip on his road to greatness. In fact, this was the thing that started his career.”

Today, Barnum and his career arguably serve as a Rorschach test for where we are, and what kind of humbug tale we are willing to be sold. But if you’re looking clear eyed at Barnum, an undeniable fact of his biography is his role marketing racism to the masses. “He had these new ways of making racism seem fun and for people to engage in activities that degraded a racially subjected person in ways that were intimate and funny and surprising and novel,” says Reiss. “That’s part of his legacy, that’s part of what he left us, just as he also left us some really great jokes and circus acts and this kind of charming, wise-cracking ‘America’s uncle’ reputation. This is equally a part of his legacy.”

Rather than explore such dark notes, The Greatest Showman is more interested in spinning a pretty tale, a humbug, if you will, of a magnitude, that Barnum himself would likely tip his hat to.

But as the late historian Daniel Boorstin put it in his critical text, The Image, perhaps this revisionary storytelling shouldn’t be a surprise to those paying attention.

“Contrary to popular belief,” as Boorstin wrote, “Barnum's great discovery was not how easy it was to deceive the public, but rather, how much the public enjoyed being deceived.”


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The rise of the anti-psychiatry movement

By the 1960s, the evidence that ECT was very effective for treating depression was robust. But there were also good reasons for patients to fear ECT. These reasons, combined with widespread revolts against authority and conformity that flourished in the 1960s, also gave rise to a revolt against medical authority &ndash the anti-psychiatry movement.

In its most extreme versions, the anti-psychiatry movement rejected the very idea of mental illness. But physical treatments, and most especially ECT, aroused its strongest rejections. Most advocates of anti-psychiatry &ndash even those who questioned the very reality of mental illness &ndash were supportive of talk therapy.

This provides another clue about why ECT occasions such deep divides. By acting so directly on the body, without any delving into the life history of the patient, ECT&rsquos powerful effects raise questions about what mental illness is, and what kind of psychiatry is best. It evens raises questions about who we are, and what a person is.

ECT use declined in the 1960s and 1970s, but revived starting in the early 1980s. During the years since, there have been a growing number of positive portrayals, often in patient memoirs like Fisher&rsquos. Writers such as Norman Endler and Martha Manning wrote moving accounts of how ECT brought them back from very bleak depression.

Increasingly, ECT came to be provided with consent, and the use of modified ECT became standard. Now, psychiatrists estimate that about 100,000 Americans receive ECT.

With the rise of the age of Prozac, our culture became more comfortable with physical fixes for those illnesses we continue to call &ldquomental.&rdquo According to psychiatrists who provide the treatment, many patients often go back for voluntary repeat ECT treatments, as Fisher did. That is hard to square with a stereotyped view of ECT as a form of abusive social control. ECT continues to have many critics, often people who received the treatment unwillingly, or who felt pressured into receiving it. For example, Wendy Funk wrote about this in her book &ldquoWhat Difference Does it Make?&rdquo

The main source of continuing controversy concerns a possible adverse effect: memory loss.

There is no question that ECT causes some memory loss, particularly of events near the time of the treatment. These memories often return, however. And there is also little doubt that many patients get potent therapeutic results, and many patients say they have little, if any, permanent memory loss.

But permanent long-term memory loss does occur, and it is uncertain how common it is. Many clinicians believe it to be exceedingly rare, based on their experience treating many patients over the years.

The scientific studies are not very conclusive, however, and serious and permanent memory loss is everywhere in patient memoirs &ndash not least in those patients who have written positive accounts of ECT&rsquos therapeutic effects. In her book &ldquoShockaholic,&rdquo Fisher was emphatic about the power of ECT to reverse stubborn depression, but added, &ldquothe truly negative thing about ECT is that it&rsquos incredibly hungry and the only thing it has a taste for is memory.&rdquo

ECT can be an invaluable treatment for many people. Many providers lament that that it is a stigmatized treatment. Dispelling the stigma, though, will require more than just testimony to its therapeutic effect, but also a full reckoning with its costs, both past and present.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

Theodore J. Castele Professor of Medical History, Case Western Reserve University


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