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Phrenology and the nineteenth-century popular imagination
Author: William Hughes

The dome of thought examines how phrenology and phrenologists were represented in British daily newspapers, popular magazines and serious journals from the opening of the nineteenth century to its conclusion, before tracing the residual influence of the pseudoscience across the twentieth century and, surprisingly, into the second decade of the twenty-first century. The book opens with a consideration of how phrenology was deployed to explain literary celebrity in the Victorian period with particular attention being directed to the interpretation of the skulls of William Shakespeare and Robert Burns. The book then continues by recalling the manner in which the doctrine of phrenology was introduced to British culture in the early nineteenth century, and the manner in which the Continental activities of Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Gasper Spurzheim were reported. The lecture tour of Britain and Ireland subsequently undertaken by Spurzheim is discussed, and the book reassess the controversy which surrounded his encounter with the Scottish medical establishment in 1816. Spurzheim’s influence upon George Combe, the Scottish lawyer who was the popular face of British phrenology for much of the century, is then considered, as is the interface of phrenological thought with mesmerism in the work of John Elliotson. The final chapter of the book surveys the declining years of speculative and theoretical phrenology and its transformation into a primarily commercial activity under the particular influence of the American Fowler brothers. The conclusion surveys phrenology in the twentieth century, and its resurgence in political satires directed against Donald Trump.

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William Hughes

form. These once meaningful icons are now adrift in signification, no longer anchored to an extant system of thought: in the first quarter of the twenty-first century, a practical phrenologist cannot be found at the end of even the most provincial British seaside pier. With the development of such products, the residual memory of an erstwhile pseudoscience is transformed into an easily overlooked decorative artefact. The physically durable modern ceramic reproduction thereby becomes – perversely – even more ephemeral than the fragile relics of the phrenological past

in The dome of thought
Mesmerism, celebrity practitioners and the schism of 1842–3
William Hughes

phrenology. 2 Similar concerns, punctuated by accusations that phrenologists had denied the divine inspiration of Holy Writ, and counterclaims which depicted phrenology itself as divine law, appear both in print and on the public lecture platform in Britain at the same time – albeit primarily as a footnote to the gradual elision of the differences between the two pseudosciences in some parts of the United Kingdom. 3 That conflation, which occurred over a period of around

in The dome of thought
Exhumation and the autopsy of talent
William Hughes

, but the handsomest, too! Who says this isn't just what his face was; his face taken after death? Who's bold enough to say so? 19 The elision of perceived beauty and acknowledged intellectual worthiness here may suggest, in the first instance, that Wray is little more than a bardolatrous amateur physiognomist, a practitioner of a pseudoscience- cum -parlour-game which insisted that the secrets of

in The dome of thought
George Combe and the rise of British phrenology
William Hughes

) 1 Historians of phrenology customarily consider the much-anticipated confrontation of the Reviewer by the Reviewed as a signal, if not climactic, event in the history of the pseudoscience. Traditionally, the scene is set with intimations that Gordon's polemic in the Edinburgh Review had thoroughly prejudiced the intelligent burghers of that city against Spurzheim's earnest claims, and that the German was spurned at the very door of the Scottish doctor when he politely

in The dome of thought
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Hypnotism and the Victorian Popular Imagination
Author: William Hughes

This book explores how the nineteenth-century popular mind envisaged, elided and expressed both magnetism and hypnotism. It supplements and addresses the script of Mesmerized through access to a considerably more dense body of detail derived from the most widely disseminated publications in the British metropolitan and provincial press. The book contends that popular accounts of magnetic and hypnotic practice constitute a comparable form of evidence to those derived from clinical publications. It supplements mesmerism studies by conveying the widely disseminated cultural archive of images, reputations and fears through which the reading public may have approached the mesmeric fictions of its day. In emphasising the pervasive nature of a popular press, the book acknowledges the predispositions and prejudgements that may be embodied in a popular audience. The book begins with a discussion on how British readers perceived the work of Mesmer, his followers and his imitators on the Continent of Europe in the first three decades of the nineteenth century. It charts the transition of mesmerism from its initial theatres of the salon and the drawing room into the regular hospital system. The book also presents a detailed reading of the Doctor's involvement with the London Mesmeric Infirmary, a well-funded institution patronised by the nobility which faded quietly into obscurity around 1870. Finally, it briefly charts the obscure final years of British mesmerism. The book is a methodological pointer as to how the other pseudosciences of the Victorian period could best be revealed in all their richness and variety.

Rhe Gothic and death in Russian realism
Katherine Bowers

This chapter examines nineteenth-century Russian writers who drew on the Gothic in order to explore the experience of death, existential terror, and the possibility of an afterlife within the bounds of literary realism. In Turgenev’s story Bezhin Meadow and Chekhov’s sketch A Dead Body, Gothic language and imagery create a narrative frame that contextualizes an encounter between peasants and a traveller focused around a discussion of death. This chapter argues that the Gothic is juxtaposed with folk belief in these works, to underscore that both the peasants’ dvoeverie and educated Russia’s interest in natural sciences, materialist philosophy, and the pseudo-science of spiritualism represent attempts to systematise and explain the unknown. The Gothic mediates the tension between science and faith, the irrational and the prosaic, and the abject and the mysterious, while allowing these ruminations to remain ambiguously unfinalised for the reader.

in The Gothic and death
Louise Hill Curth

astrology, which was used to interpret the movements of the stars. Although there have always been critics of the interpretative elements, the discipline has only fallen into general disrepute in fairly recent times. Some academics have attacked astrology by arguing that it ‘dominated the minds of the vulgar and uneducated’ until fairly recent times. Others, however, are even harsher and dismiss it as being a ‘pseudoscience without any scientific evidence to support its existence’ along with other types of ‘supernatural’, psychic or religious phenomena.2 Paradoxically, at

in English almanacs, astrology and popular medicine: 1550–1700
Angela Stienne

friends and her character, all written in a rather sentimental prose. The article concludes that ‘Such appear to have been the characteristics of this Egyptian girl, so far as they can be deduced from her skull, and on the presumption that the organic constitution of her brain was good.’ 4 This is phrenology, a pseudo-science that linked the shape of a person’s head to their intellectual and social

in Mummified
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Animal magnetism – a farce?
William Hughes

British Medical Association, the controversy that was associated with both its claims and the activity of its practitioners persisted well into a nineteenth century arguably as rich in disputable pseudosciences as it was in scientifically credible advances. If Mesmer’s original conception of animal magnetism, with its vision of an intangible, universal and manipulable fluid, was largely discredited and

in That devil's trick