Carlos S. Alvarado, Ph.D., Atlantic University
Alvarado, C.S. (2009). Late 19th- and early 20th-century discussions of animal magnetism. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 57, 366-381.
The mesmerists explained the phenomena of what was later called hypnosis as the effects of a force called animal magnetism. Both psychologists’ and physicians’ writings generally create the impression that the magnetic movement disappeared after the mid-19th century. While the concept of animal magnetism declined significantly by the end of the 19th century, it did not disappear completely. Some examples include the work of Hector Durville, Henri Durville, Emile Magnin, and Edmund Shaftesbury. Detailed accounts of the work of Edmund Gurney and Albert de Rochas are presented. Similar to its earlier counterpart, the late mesmeric movement was associated with what today is known as parapsychological phenomena. This association, and the belief that the demise of magnetic theory represents scientific progress, has led many to emphasize a history that is incomplete.
Engstrom, E.J. (2006). Magnetische Versuche in Berlin, 1789-1835: Zur Entkorperung magnetischer Glaubwurdigkeit [Magnetic trials in Berlin, 1789-1835: on the disembodiment of magnetic credibility]. Medizinhistorisches Journal, 41, 225-269.
From the 1780s to the 1830s, physicians at the Charite hospital in Berlin conducted clinical trials designed to test the therapeutic effectiveness of animal magnetism. This study draws on those trials to investigate the practical and discursive deployment of the magnetist’s body. It argues that that body–and the moral problems it came to pose–were increasingly purged from medical practice and discourse. Whereas in the 1790s the plausibility of therapeutic claims about animal magnetism demanded recourse to the magnetic practitioner’s body, by the 1830s the embodied evidence on which those claims rested had lost it’s persuasive power and been relegated to the netherworld of quacks and charlatans.
Franzel, S. (2009). “Welches Gesetz ist der Mensch in seiner Wirksamkeit?”: Pedagogy and Media in Fichte’s Encounter with Mesmerism. Germanic Review, 84, 3-25.
The author explores how Fichte’s encounter with Mesmerism and the Mesmerist cure puts pressure on his conception of pedagogy and communications media. For Fichte, Mesmer’s theory of animal magnetism offers a competing model of interpersonal relation undescribable by the logic of the self-conscious subject. The author argues that Fichte’s consideration of Mesmerism in light of the oral lecture-a fixture of German scholarly culture and of Fichte’s engagement as a public intellectual-reveals certain fundamental tensions at work in concepts of mediation, communication, autonomy, and intersubjectivity, concepts that in turn organize the idealistneohumanist notion of Bildung.
Kauffman, M.H. (2008). William Gregory (1803-58): Professor of chemistry at the University of Edinburgh and enthusiast for phrenology and mesmerism. Journal of Medical Biography, 16, 128-133.
William Gregory was descended from a long line of academics. Although he graduated in medicine, he had earlier determined on a career in Chemistry but more particularly to succeed Professor Thomas Charles Hope in the Edinburgh Chair in that discipline. At various times during the 1830s and 1840s he studied Chemistry at Giessen in Germany under Professor Justus Liebig and was closely associated with him over the succeeding years, translating and editing in all seven of his books. Gregory taught initially in London, at the Edinburgh Extra-mural School, in Dublin, at the Andersonian University, Glasgow and as Mediciner and Professor of Chemistry in Aberdeen. In 1844 he was appointed to the Chair of Chemistry in Edinburgh and remained in this post until his death in 1858. Shortly after he graduated he joined the Edinburgh Phrenological Society (he was initially its Secretary and later President) and took a particularly active role in the meetings of this Society and in the Aberdeen Phrenological Society. He was also interested in the phenomena of Mesmerism and Mesmero-Phrenology, despite the agitation and scorn of many of his academic colleagues both in Aberdeen and in Edinburgh.
Kennaway, J. (2011). Musical hypnosis: Sound and selfhood from mesmerism to brainwashing. Social History of Medicine, Online: http://shm.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/10/05/shm.hkr143.full.pdf+html
Music has long been associated with trance states, but very little has been written about the modern western discussion of music as a form of hypnosis or ‘brainwashing’. However, from Mesmer’s use of the glass armonica to the supposed dangers of subliminal messages in heavy metal, the idea that music can overwhelm listeners’ self-control has been a recurrent theme. In particular, the concepts of automatic response and conditioned reflex have been the basis for a model of physiological psychology in which the self has been depicted as vulnerable to external stimuli such as music. This article will examine the discourse of hypnotic music from animal magnetism and the experimental hypnosis of the nineteenth century to the brainwashing panics since the Cold War, looking at the relationship between concerns about hypnotic music and the politics of the self and sexuality.
Charles Poyen’s lecture tour introducing animal magnetism to America has been described as triumphant (Forrest, 2000), but according to Poyen’s own account (1837/1982) the beginning of his tour, devoted to northern New England, was anything but successful. Poyen success did not begin until he partnered with Cynthia Gleason, a talented hypnotic subject, from Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The subsequent lectures and demonstrations by Poyen and Gleason generated the interest that Poyen had been seeking. Rhode Island appears to have developed a much more accepting attitude toward animal magnetism than the rest of New England as indicated by the wide use of magnetism in the Providence area even after Poyen had the left the United States. In this article, I examine the roles played by Cynthia Gleason as well as Thomas H. Webb, M.D., the editor of the Providence Daily Journal and Dr. Francis Wayland, the president of Brown University, and George Capron, M.D., in furthering the acceptance of magnetism in America.
Schmidt, D. (2005). Re-visioning antebellum American psychology: The dissemination of mesmerism, 1836-1854. History of Psychology, 8, 403-434.
Mesmerism, the French method of treating illness and inducing trance, was introduced to the United States in 1836. A cohort of Americans took to the practice enthusiastically, publishing materials, presenting lectures attended by thousands, conducting empirical investigations, and treating untold numbers of ill people. These practitioners understood their profession addressed the mind, and they often referred to their work as “psychology.” The mesmerists speculated about mind-brain links and investigated “interior states,” “mental healing,” and the controversial “higher mind powers” such as clairvoyance. Antebellum culture is the backdrop for this study of the rise, fall, and dispersion of mesmerism in the United States. Evidence provided warrants a reappraisal of mesmerism’s significance for 19th-century psychology.