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Title: 'Lovers and madmen have such seething brains' : historical aspects of neurosyphilis in four Scottish asylums, c. 1880-1930
Author: Davis, Gayle Leighton
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2001
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This thesis analyses a sample of clinical records of four Scottish asylums, two in Edinburgh and two in Glasgow, in order to study processes of diagnosis and treatment in neurosyphilitic patients circa 1880 to 1930. During this period, treponema pallidum, the spirochaete responsible for syphilis, was discovered. Moreover, the Wassermann reaction to identify syphilitics from blood and cerebro-spinal fluid samples was developed. This test became central to the scientific investigation of the insane, and was increasingly portrayed as psychiatry’s most potent symbol of the emerging era of laboratory medicine. Numerous heroic therapies to treat neurosyphilitic disorders were also tried, including malarial therapy. Therefore in terms of diagnosis and treatment, this period is crucial in the historical development of the relationship between syphilis, psychiatry and medicine. Neurosyphilis is a generic term for all forms of insanity now known to be caused by the syphilitic spirochaete. However alienists, particularly those working in Scotland, responded in complex ways to spirochaete-based reclassifications of forms in insanity such as General Paralysis of the Insane, which was diagnosed in an estimated twenty percent of late nineteenth-century male asylum admissions. This theme is explored by comparing the empirical case note sample findings with the published and unpublished views of Scottish system asylum medical superintendents. It is argued that men such as Thomas Clouston, David Yellowlees and George Robertson assimilated new spirochaete-based aetiologies into pre-existing multifactorial concepts of GPI, which related the disease to the influences of degeneration and urbanisation, ‘fast living’ and ‘excess’. It is argued that their informed medical opinions simultaneously expressed and were also an expression of, wider social, moral and political concerns. The thesis draws upon a broadly social constructionist perspective to illuminate the historical connections between the clinical, pathological and social aspects of neurosyphilitic disorders over the period of study.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available