The Centre for the History of Medicine, Durham University, UK.

Sponsored by the Northern Centre for the History of Medicine, supported by the Wellcome Trust, London

Research Seminar Reminder

Friday 12 February 2010: Dr Emese Lafferton (University of Edinburgh)

‘Experimentalizing Hypnosis in the 1880s-1890s. Psychiatry, Culture and Modernity’

Durham University, Queen’s Campus, Stockton-on-Tees, Wolfson Research Institute, Seminar Room

A buffet lunch will be served in the Seminar at 1200 and the presentation will commence at 1230. For catering purposes, could you

please let me know before 3 February 2010 if you will be attending for lunch.

For further information, please visit our webpage at or contact the Centre’s Outreach Officer, Katherine Smith, mailto:[email protected]

For directions to Queen’s Campus, Stockton, please visit our webpage at


Much scholarly attention has been paid to the rich cultural meanings of medical hypnosis in the last decades of the nineteenth century,

especially – though not exclusively – in the French context. It has been shown how this greatly fashionable line of research and therapeutic practice enabled psychiatry to take part in and generate an intense cultural interchange between diverse spheres of late-nineteeth century intellectual and social life. Yet relatively little effort has been made to understand hypnosis research as a larger experimental project launched in the period when the psychiatric profession was still struggling to gain credibility and status among the medical disciplines.

My paper recovers the culture of hypnotic experimentation conducted in Hungarian psychiatric and internal clinics in the 1880s-1890s. By focusing on the concrete experiments and ensuing debates, the paper discusses controversies over: issues of scientific objectivity, the reliability of the technique of hypnosis, questions of proof, the problem of replication in the experimental setting, and the striking

images of the hypnotized person as a ‘dissected frog,’ the ‘reflex machine,’ and the ‘simulator’. Through the analysis, I also demonstrate

how social judgements and values shaped the epistemological basis of psychiatric knowledge and how the experiments ended up testing the social order itself, rather than any natural phenomenon. Finally, placing the experiments in the wider professional context, I explain the emerging opposition against hypnosis as a clash between two forms of life and psychiatric cosmologies: those of the university psychiatric clinic and the asylum.