A Night of Mesmerism and Psychology at Barts Museum

Originally posted on Forbidden Histories:

Last Thursday I had the privilege of giving a talk in the excellent Damaging the Body lecture series, ably organised at Barts Museum of Pathology, London, by Jo Parsons and Sarah Chaney. Surrounded by hundreds of jars filled with various organs and body parts of dead people (no nibbles were served in case you’re wondering), I performed a post-mortem examination of mesmerism as a historiographical casualty during the birth of German professionalised psychology. (A comprehensive analysis is presented in my Wellcome Trust-funded study of the entanglement of psychical research and early professionalised psychology in Europe and North America, which I’m currently revising into a book manuscript).

Franz Anton Mesmer

Franz Anton Mesmer

Starting with a brief sketch of changing scientific attitudes to ‘fascination’ (mental influence at a distance) and miraculous healing from the Scientific Revolution to the Enlightenment, I noted that in popular standard accounts of mesmerism it is often ignored…

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Kitty Marion: Edwardian England’s Most Dangerous Woman

Originally posted on viceandvirtueblog:

Today marks the centenary of what is, for the feminist movement, a similar event to ‘the shot heard around the world’. On June 4 1913, Emily Wilding Davison, long term campaigner for women’s rights in England, stepped in front of the King’s horse and tried to attach a purple, green and white banner, emblazoned with ‘Votes for Women’ to the King’s Horse at the Epsom Derby. She died 4 days later from her injuries after the horses trampled her as they rounded the corner, and the horrifying tangle mess of human and animal was caught on the early news cameras and repeated across the country and around the world.

Kitty Marion

Kitty Marion

Another militant suffragette called Emily the ‘Supreme Sacrifice’, a women who had given up her own life in the fight for recognition that the society that they lived in did not accurately reflect or represent half of it’s members…

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What does it mean to dream? On Victorian thoughts & the 21st century soul…

Originally posted on No more wriggling out of writing ......:

VBODWhilst on holiday in Suffolk a few weeks ago I bought a small book at a second-hand stall at the market in the lovely little town of Framlingham. Called The Victorian Book of Dreams, it is clearly a forerunner of the little books you might have picked up at the till in Past Times as a desperate last moment Christmas present for someone who has everything (other than a book about Edwardian manners or tips for husbands).

The picture on the front cover is magnificent and reading through it has been fun; but it has made me realise that the interpretation of dreams has come a long way in the past one hundred and twenty years or so.

For example, one entry in the book states ‘Bagpipes – to dream of this musical instrument is always unfortunate; it denotes extreme poverty and you will have to labour hard all…

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Was Amy Dudley Ill? The Evidence

Originally posted on All Things Robert Dudley:

The earliest known mention of Amy Dudley’s health occurred on 18 April 1559 in a dispatch of the Count of Feria to his master King Philip II of Spain: “Lord Robert has come so much into favour that he does whatever he likes with affairs and it is even said that her majesty visits him in his chamber day and night. People talk of this so freely that they go so far as to say that his wife has a malady in one of her breasts and the Queen is only waiting for her to die to marry Lord Robert.”1 From the Spanish original it appears that her condition was said to be even more serious, for ‟está muy mala de un pecho“2 translates literally to ‟she is very ill in one breast”, not just that she was suffering from “a malady”.

A good fortnight later these news…

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The Key To The Lock

Originally posted on Aubrey's Blog:

They lie at rest beneath glass; twisted and curled with art and tears – products of a grief that will not surrender.  They are the creations of loss:  delicate memories that are kept close in melancholy beauty.

Mourning jewelry was popular during the notoriously sentimental 19th century – a time of disease and fey prettiness. In England, it became especially popular after the death of Prince Albert in 1861, when the Widow of Windsor made grieving an art, shrouding the court in shadow.

Taking their cue from the Queen, people glorified lives made unnecessarily short with brooches, rings, bracelets and lockets containing a strand of the deceased’s hair.  These items were exquisitely graceful:   filigrees of sad, burnished gold or onyx, outlined with tears of pearls.  The lock of hair each held was woven and spun into sprays of wheat, weeping willows, scrolls of feathers, complex plaited mats.




They were…

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The Hanwell Asylum

Originally posted on London Historians' Blog:

The Hanwell Asylum, aka the Middlesex County Asylum,  is probably better known – if at all – as St Bernard’s. For some reason, I thought it was long-closed, like the Holloway sanitorium in Virginia Water. Or at least moved away like the Bethlem Hospital (“Bedlam”) in Lambeth, now the Imperial War Museum.

Hanwell Asylum, St Bernard's

The Hanwell Pauper and Lunatic Asylum.

Not a bit of it. While out and about yesterday, we popped in to where we knew it to be, mainly to see – out of curiosity – what buildings remained. We quickly discovered two things: first, St Bernard’s Hospital, part of West London NHS Mental Health Trust is very much active. There were small numbers of patients hanging around on garden benches and wandering about. Some kept each other company. Quite a few were smoking. Is it safe to assume that even these poor souls are further tortured by…

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The Ghosts of Gough Square






Every little court and alley in this part of London has its colony of ghosts, and wandering among them I would certainly, sooner or later, stumble upon Gough Square. It is not too easy to find. I usually enter it by Wine Office Court, in which is located the Cheshire Cheese, that famous eating-place which only became firmly identified with Dr. Johnson after his death, because I like to pass and frequently enter the one quaint old tavern which remains exactly as most London taverns were a century or two ago, and because tradition says that Goldsmith lived in this court when he wrote The Vicar of Wakefield.
Reaching the top of this narrow channel and turning sharply to the left, one faces the famous house, Number 17, the house in which Dr. Johnson lived for ten years from 1748 to 1759, during which he compiled  the greater part of the Dictionary and wrote innumerable “Ramblers” and “The Vanity of Human Wishes”; from which he dispatched his smashing letter to Lord Chesterfield, and to which he returned  “unshaken as the monument ” after the failure of his play, Irene. It is the house, too, in which his wife died and in which, in all likelihood, he wrote Rasselas. It is not an amusing fiction, but I quite agree with the judgment of Christopher North, that “it is a noble performance in design and in execution,” and that never were the expenses of a mother’s funeral more gloriously defrayed by a son than the funeral of Samuel Johnson’s mother by the price of Rasselas, written for the pious purpose of laying her head decently and honourably in the dust.”

The Graphic (London, England), Saturday, December 30, 1893; Issue 1257.

The Graphic (London, England), Saturday, December 30, 1893; Issue 1257.


Text from Newton, A. Edward. “The Ghosts of Gough Square in The Greatest Book in the World and other papers 1925

Defining the Historian: Women Who Write About Sex

Originally posted on viceandvirtueblog:


I’ve spent the last month being part of two amazing initiatives run by the BBC, here in the UK. Firstly, as part of the BBC’s new campaign to increase the number of women it can call on for expert opinions, the aptly titled #ExpertWomen (you can see my brilliantly cringe worthy audition tape here) and then as one of the AHRC and BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinkers. Both were amazing experiences, and while I am incredibly lucky to have had them, they were timely reminders of what the world outside of academia, the public *real* world, finds interesting about the research that we do.

I’ve blogged about my experiences as an #ExpertWoman over at the BBC Academy website, but on all the days, there was one question that I kept finding myself being asked over and over again; WHY? Why do you write about sex? Why do…

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