International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

twitter 2015
     facebook 2015


THURSDAY, JULY 9  /  09:00 - 10:30  /  DS-1545
Individual papers
History, Natural History and Human Nature

Urban anthropological fieldwork in "mixed-race" communities, Australia (1940-1965)

Kathryn Ticehurst (University of Sydney, Australia)

Between 1940 and 1965, several anthropologists in Australia, including Marie Reay, Jeremy Beckett, Ruth Fink and Diane Barwick, worked in Aboriginal communities which they labelled "mixed-race." Such conceptions of partial or mixed Aboriginality were not reflective of Aboriginal people’s self definition. They were borrowed instead from administrative categories and they blurred the lines between race and culture. These terms referred to Aboriginal people who lived on the edges of segregated country towns and in the suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney. Fieldwork in towns and cities differed from the traditional practice of the remote Australian anthropologist. It involved attending church services, protest meetings, weekly dances and boxing matches. It posed new problems: Diane Barwick had difficulty finding her subjects amongst the broader population, whilst Ruth Fink had trouble convincing the inhabitants of Brewarrina that she wasn't a spy, or a disguised photographer for the Aborigines Welfare Board magazine. These anthropologists turned to sociology, and to theories of marginality, to describe communities which remained distinct whilst living with others. This paper will focus on the social interactions which constituted fieldwork in these studies, to examine changing anthropological practice and theory in this period. Even though these anthropologists explicitly rejected biological race as a useful concept, racial categories continued to determine who was considered an appropriate subject of study, and race continued to affect the social relations upon which such studies were based.

Kraepelin not interested in biological explanations of insanity! says Hopkins psychiatrist: Adolf Meyer’s psychobiological view of dementia praecox and critique of Emil Kraepelin

Susan Lamb (McGill University, Canada)

The name of the German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin became synonymous with "biological psychiatry" at the end of the twentieth century. Adolf Meyer, however (the Johns Hopkins psychiatrist whose influence on American psychiatry a century earlier equaled that of Kraepelin) publicly criticized his mentor precisely because Kraepelin refused to acknowledge the biological dimensions of dementia praecox. Historians have tended to frame developments around clinical and cultural constructions of dementia praecox in the United States in terms of disciplinary disputes over an organic/somatic versus functional/psychogenic etiology. According to traditional narratives, Kraepelin was a prominent thinker in the somatic camp, whereas, among proponents of functional theories, Meyer derived his ideas from more important theorists (e.g., Janet, Bleuler, Freud). Richard Noll recently ventured beyond this limiting dichotomy, arguing that Kraepelin's endocrinal theory of auto-intoxication to explain dementia praecox represented an alternative biological middle ground. As the fictional headline above is meant to emphasize, Meyer cried foul on this very point. He criticized Kraepelin's allusions to unverifiable biochemical processes as a "terminus technicus for our ignorance" that detracted from the painstaking work of investigating why and how the complex biological function of mentation failed in such cases. Noll is not the first historian to characterize Meyer's own theory of "psychobiology" as hopelessly vague, and he disparages Meyer's audacity to describe his approach as "biological". Yet Meyer's ideas on dementia praecox have never been clearly restated for purposes of historical analysis, making it impossible to evaluate critically their relative significance. This paper 1) examines Adolf Meyer's conception of dementia praecox as the result of dissolution and a disorder of poorly regulated instincts and maladaptive habits, and, 2) explores the possibility that it emerged as a radical and important theory - and, the more likely progenitor of biological psychiatry in the United States today.

Why did Ernst Haeckel copy Wilhelm Giesbrecht’s copepod drawings?

Katharina Steiner (Universität Zürich, Switzerland)

The famous drawings of the zoologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), professor at the University of Jena, have been criticized for misinterpreting the appearance of organic forms to suit Haeckel's aesthetic conception of evolution. For example, the perfect symmetries and sharp points of his radiolaria depictions have been reproached as products of “Haeckelism.” It is also clear, I will argue, that his plate on copepods in his Kunstformen der Natur (1899-1904) appropriated figures from zoologist Wilhelm Giesbrecht's Systematik und Faunistik der pelagischen Coepoden (1892), only reorganizing the arrangement and changing their formal-aesthetic presentation to a minimal degree. This is particularly of interest because we have here practically identical images used by researchers from different schools, distributed in two different contexts, with two different scientific aims. Giesbrecht (a student of Karl A. Möbius) wrote his study for a scientifically trained audience—methodologically it is aligned with an expedition to examine plankton carried out by Victor Hensen in 1889; it remains a key piece of basic research comprising both a systematic morphological biological description of species and a quantitative data set treating their geography and behavior. By contrast, Haeckel’s Kunstformen was aimed at a lay audience. At the same time, however, he tied his collection of plates directly to his theoretical texts Generelle Morphologie (1866) and Schöpfungsgeschichte (1868). In doing so he sought to generate an aesthetic-morphological systematics for his natural objects, his “promorphology.” In my paper, using the drawings of Giesbrecht and Haeckel I inquire into the function of epistemic images within zoological research. Haeckel's appropriation of Giesbrecht's images shows how an epistemic object can transition from an 'objective', quantitative context to a 'subjective', qualitative context. Giesbrecht’s drawings of copepods were open to interpretation. Their use as an epistemic object by Haeckel was not contingent upon Giesbrecht’s particular aims and tradition.