Seventeen-year-old Sofia Ahumada during her suicide

  llustration 1 “Seventeen-year-old Sofia Ahumada during her suicide”. Source: El Imparcial, June 1, 1899, 1.


llustration 1 “Seventeen-year-old Sofia Ahumada during her suicide”. Source: El Imparcial, June 1, 1899, 1.

The proliferation of publicity about suicide in Mexico City’s press during the early 20th century reveals people’s fears about the transition from childhood to adolescence, which included material dangers, such as alcohol, but also access to recreational drugs, guns, and novels that reflected the anxieties of Catholic critics of the representation of suicide in the sensational press. Writer Ángel del Campo, under the pseudonyms of Tick-Tack and Micrós, published the short story “El de los Claveles Dobles” in the newspaper El Cómico.  In the story, Faviano, nicknamed “El Gratis,” an ambitious but poorly paid reporter, lives in an attic without paying rent. “El Gratis” rides a bicycle to interviews with witnesses in police stations and in neighborhoods. Campo revealed that the reporter’s poverty is due to the lack of sensational news in the press.[1] The reporter focuses on the lives of Pepe, a married neighbor, and young Felipa as they end their romantic affair; events end in tragedy for the couple. The neighbors, according to Campo, spread gossip that the young woman lost her virginity to the rebellious Pepe. Felipa, the protagonist, based on Sofia Ahumada, overwhelmed by her emotions, decides to put an end to her life. In Campo’s novel, Felipa in her desperation runs to the bell tower of the cathedral and jumps to her death.[2] In the description of the crime scene, Campo focused on the number of reporters who washed Felipa’s jawbone and femur, and he noted the letters stained by the fresh blood. At the end of the story, paralleling true events, “El Gratis” begs Pepe for the original letter from Felipa for a short story for Pifano, a newspaper inspired by El Cómico. Initially, Pepe refuses to share the original love letter; however, Felipe acquiesces and shares a copy with the inquisitive reporter.                                                                                                                             

The reporters of El Imparcial focused on the last week of Ahumada’s life. Ahumada jumped to her death from the bell tower in the cathedral in downtown Mexico City, as depicted in Illustration 1.

Reporters noted that the 17-year-old Ahumada suffered from insomnia and nervousness. Witnesses, such as Ahumada’s sister, claimed in interviews with reporters that Ahumada often clenched her fists in moments of stress.[3] Ahumada’s sister provided ample information on the pain experienced by the deceased; she added that Ahumada had stopped sleeping and had become visibly disheartened in the days before her suicide. Bonifacio Martínez, Ahumada’s boyfriend, told a reporter that he had grown tired of her hysteria. The reporter emphasized that Ahumada’s friends had done nothing to prevent her death. While El Imparcial widely reported on Ahumada’s suicide, in the aftermath, the newspaper warned that reporters from rival newspapers “should avoid fictionalized accounts of suicides.”[4]

Carlos Zúñiga Nieto completed his PhD in History at Columbia University. His dissertation entitled, “Violent Passions: Childhood and Crime in the Making of Modern Mexico, 1870-1910,” analyzes the transition from the sentimental ideology of childhood innocence to scientific definitions of childhood in Mexico City and the Yucatán Peninsula. His research interests include the history of childhood and youth, history of emotions, and gender and family history. He is currently writing an article on the cultivation of emotions in Mexico City and Mérida’s children's magazines and periodicals during the anti-colonial rebellions against Spain in Cuba and Yucatán during The Ten Years’ War (1868-1878).

[1]Ángel del Campo, El de los claveles dobles: ni amor al mundo ni piedad al cielo: el suicidio de Sofía Ahumada : expediente de prensa y literatura mexicanas (Ciudad de México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2008), 10.

[2]Ángel’s del Campo short novel was published in editions of Villasana’s El Còmico in the aftermath of Sofia Ahumada’s suicide.

[3]El Imparcial, June 1, 1899, 1.

[4]El Imparcial, July 5, 1901,2.

The Invisible Masochist

Guillermo de Eugenio Pérez

The aim of this post is the historical analysis of the masochist as a cultural figure in fin-de-siècle France to describe the experience of being a masochist, how was perceived by the social environment and what kind of narratives would arise from him. 

The masochist in its French version is portrayed as a common man, with a high professional profile: a bourgeois businessman, journalist or politician or (more rarely) an aristocratic cynical. Armand Dubarry's Les déséquilibrés de l'amour vol. 6, Les Flagellants (H.Daragon, 1906), describes the decline of a bourgeois family (father, mother and daughter) corrupted by a licentious way of life and a rotten heredity. Dubarry (1906:5) establishes that Les aberrations des sens sont infinies, mais il en est qui forment, pour ainsi dire, le substratum de la folie érotique, et la flagellation se trouve au premier rang de celles-là. (In fact, Dubarry conceived a whole collection of at least 13 novels with a "psychiatric subject", each volume devoted to one specific kind of sexual perversion: fétishism, masochism, sadism, homosexuality, histery, incest, etc.) Moral corruption is obviously a chief feature on his depiction of the central character of the novel, but no particular traits are stressed. This slightly, but not remarkably repulsive character is not to be identified as a pervers, he could be anyone, his defects are the defects of many bourgeois entrepreneurs, and his physical appearance even lacks the picturesque eccentricities of a Baron de Charlus. His countenance is fading within the mob.

C’était un brun d’une cinquantaine d’années, grissonnant, ni petit ni grand, bedonnant, aux traits réguliers, au nez droit surmonté d’un lorgnon, à la bouche lippue récouverte d’une moustache tombante, aux yeux éteints, aux joues blafardes (...)

Après de solides études, il avait embrassé la politique, qui convenait à sa nature turbulente et peu scrupuleuse, à son ambition, à ses appétits, fait du journalisme brigué des fonctions électives et, grâce à son audace, à son activité, obtenu les mandats de conseiller général et de député (...) Il ne réussissait qu’à passer pour un de ces intrigants dépourvus de sens moral, par lesquels le suffrage universel est trompé et qu’il vomit quelquefois (Dubarry, 1906: 24-25).

The last third of 19th Century is the scenery of an increase in the production of psychiatric knowledge. This applies not only to the field of madness in a strong sense, such as dementia or mental insanity, but also to those particular cases of sexual deviation called perversions and previously considered as cases of debauchery. The impact of sexology and authors such as Albert Moll, Krafft-Ebing or Havelock Ellis explains a new scientific interest in human sexual life or vita sexualis and expanded pathological labelling on this domain, a process known as medical appropriation of perversions (Lantéri-Laura, 1979). In France, the article of Charcot and Magnan (1882) and that of Binet (1887) are among the first mentions of the term perversion in that specific sense. It is a medical concept, related to the disorder of one organ or function (in the current case the instinct génésique) and distinguished from the moral term applied in cases of licentiousness, which was perversité. This opposition between perversion and perversité is central to the development of medical and legal expertise in the elucidation of penal responsibility (Doron, 2012).

Recent research on the history of perversions contradicts the foucauldian idea of a French psychiatry aimed to the normalization of deviant identities and focused on cases of homosexuality (Foucault, 1976; Davidson, 2004), and point to the idea that the main interest of these decades was the notion of self-restraint and free will, which allow the psychiatrists to determine if the accused was capable of avoiding the criminal impulses which seize him or whether he was only the passive toy of a spoiled biological heredity; and the paramount focus of interest were sadists and necrophiles, such as Vacher or the sergeant Bertrand (Mazeleigue-Labaste, 2015:28). As Julie Mazeleigue-Labaste has pointed out (2015: 27-29), the relevant field for medical discourses on perversions in 19th Century French Psychiatry was the constitution of a realm of expertise médico-légale. The article ­­64 of the French Penal Code of 1810 established the necessity of medical expertise to determine the nature of the criminal act in cases in which the psychological state of the accused was uncertain.

But medical treatises (Krafft-Ebing, 1900: 384; Thoinot, 1913: 79; Dubuisson, 1911: 252) tell us that masochism manque d'intérêt médico-légale, has no interest whatsoever for the psychiatrist that should intervene in a tribunal, since masochists respect private property, do not commit a public obscenity and do not aim to physically harm anybody. The theatre of masochist perversion is the brothel, la maison close, a space delimited, keeping such disgusting spectacles out of view, according to the bourgeois moral sense of the times.

Following Robert Castel (1977: 37-39) 19th century institutions are designed to secure social and economic order by means of a contract defined by liberal criteria. Those who cannot, or refuse to accomplish the standard and to sign the social contract (the beggar, the criminal, the fool, the child) represents a risk that must be isolated, restrained. If this is so, then the masochist becomes a perfect citizen, respectful and even eager for discipline, law and contracts. As Émile Laurent says (1903:255) Le masochiste n'est pas, comme le sadiste, un anti-social et sa passion ne l'entraîne jamais au crime. They were in fact indistinguishable from the common men, they have no particular physical traits; anybody could be a masochist.

The masochist seems thus to be described as a mostly anonymous figure. They could, so to speak, move freely in a perpendicular way through French society, unnoticed. This kind of abnormality was relatively respectful of bourgeois and liberal parameters: the masochist was disciplined and engaged in the fulfillment of social contract. Thus, masochism was not a matter of "identity" in the sense of the unicity of a distinct individual or political reivindication of a difference that creates a sense of belonging, as was the case for homosexuality in Germany at the time (see the writings of Ulrichs or Magnus Hirschfield). This may be an effect of the conservative politics of French psychiatrists and the prevalence of the médicine médico-légale model, which was epistemologically structured by the capacity of self-control and moral responsibility of the accused. The masochist was a masked figure; his perversion was more successfully concealed in society than that of the fetishist, the homosexual or (evidently) the exhibitionist. His main deviation was perhaps even more understandable, more akin to the spirit of the times, imbued by narratives of the interplay of erotism, violence and domination, which implied a lecture of the regression of civilization and the human species (dégénérescence, decline of culture, growing power of evil women over a weak masculinity, etc.). Even in Sacher-Masoch's stories and those of his imitators, which are more structured in the description of the figure of the slave man, he is at least evanescent in contrast with the overwhelming character of the sadist woman, who absorbs all the descriptive skills of the writer. The attention of the reader is focused on the figure of the femme fatale and the male figure fades away. 


Guillermo de Eugenio Pérez has been lecturer of History of Science and History of Philosophy at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. He did his PhD in the faculty of Humanities: Philosophy and Literature, and did thesis defence (2011) on the cultural presentation of the self in public spaces in 18th Century. It was an enquiry on the ethical and aesthetic features of concepts such as mask, cosmetic or decorum.  He has made research stays at renowed european institutions, the Centre Edgar Morin (EHESS) at París, as well as the Max Planck Institute for History of Science at Berlín. He is also a member of the I+D Proyect “Crossroads of Subjectivity: memory, experience and imagination”, a group that includes North American and Spanish researchers. He has published several articles and book chapters; some of the titles are “Wax Doll and the Dream of Asepsis”, “The Body as artifact” and “An Ethical Defence of Theatricallity: Rousseau or Rameau’s Nephew”. Nowadays he works at the Centre Alexandre Koyré at Paris in a project about the cultural reception of masochism in early twentieth century France.


Castel, Robert, L'ordre psychiatrique. L'âge d'or de l'aliénisme, Paris, Minuit, 1976.

Charcot, Jean-Martin et Valentin Magnan"Inversion du sens génital et autres perversions sexuelles", Archives de neurologie nº 7 et 12, 1882.

Davidson, Arnold I, L'Emergence de la sexualité; épistémologie historique et formation des concepts (2004), Albin Michel, 2005.

Doron, Claude-Olivier, « La formation du concept psychiatrique de ‘perversion’ au XIXe siècle en France », L’Information Psychiatrique, vol. 88, n°1, 2012, dossier Perversions, p. 39-49.

Dubarry, Armand, Les déséquilibrés de l'amour. Les flagellants, Paris, Daragon, 1906.

Dubuisson, Paul et Auguste Vigoroux, Responsabilité penale et folie, Paris, Alcan, 1911.

Dutel, Jean-Pierre, Bibliographie des ouvrages érotiques publiés clandestinement entre 1880 et 1920, vol. 1, Paris, chez l'auteur rue Jacques Callot, 2002.

Foucault, Michel, Histoire de la sexualité, vol. I, La volonté de savoir, Gallimard, 1976.

Krafft -Ebing, Richard von, Étude médico-légale, "Psychopathia sexualis" : avec recherches spéciales sur l'inversion sexuelle... traduit sur la 8e édition allemande, Émile Laurent et Sigismond Csapo (trad.), G. Carré, Paris, 1895.

Lantéri- Laura, Georges, Lecture des perversions, histoire de leur appropriation médicale, Paris, Masson, 1979.

Laurent, Émile, Sadisme et Masochisme, Paris, Vigot Frères, 1903.

Mazaleigue-Labaste, Julie, Les déséquilibres de l'amour. La genèse du concept de perversion sexuelle, de la Révolution française à Freud, Ithaque, 2014.

Thoinot, Léon-Henri, Précis de médecine légale, Tome 2, Par, Paris, O. Doin et fils, 1913.

The Eyes of a Spanish Vampire

Danny Rees

Showing the condition of entropium (inversion of the eye-lid), by G.J. Guthrie. From Lectures on operative surgery of the eye. 3rd edition. Wellcome Library, London. 

Showing the condition of entropium (inversion of the eye-lid), by G.J. Guthrie. From Lectures on operative surgery of the eye. 3rd edition. Wellcome Library, London. 


In 1885, 12 years before the publication of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, another famous writer in the Gothic style, Robert Louis Stevenson, created a very different vampire in a very different setting, who lived under the blazing sun of rural Spain. Stevenson’s writing was influenced by the wider cultural impact of the Darwinian-inspired nightmare of atavism - the mythical regression that was the inversion of evolution, as exemplified in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. If we could evolve into a higher form of thinking ape, might we not devolve back into our primitive ancestors?

Monsters could lurk invisibly inside us, buried under the surface. Our appearance might not therefore indicate our true nature. In order to counter this disturbing notion, scientists such as Francis Galton attempted to reassure us that certain types of people (eg. criminals) could be recognised by similarity of facial features using composite photography. The results of Galton’s experiments were ultimately neither successful nor convincing. This ‘problem’ of appearance and character is one of the key themes Stevenson explores in Ollala.

The narrator falls in love with Olalla. Ollala’s mother is a vampire. The reader is then teased with the question - has Olalla inherited the family trait or not? This sense of uncertainty and unease is a leitmotiv in Stevenson’s brief tale. The narrator is disturbed at not being able to ‘read’ the emotions and intentions of the bizarre inhabitants of the ancestral home he is visiting. He has gone there to take advantage of the warm ‘pure air’ of Spain for health reasons (for further details see Robert Mighall’s notes accompanying the 2002 Penguin Classics edition). When Ollala’s mother suddenly dives upon the narrator’s bleeding wound, Stevenson uses a surprising level of physiological detail in describing her reaction on seeing blood:  

“Her great eyes opened wide, the pupils shrank into points. A veil seemed to fall from her face, and leave it sharply expressive and yet inscrutable.

It is this aspect of Stevenson’s writing I find fascinating because it lucidly demonstrates Tiffany Watt-Smith’s observation:

“Where before the nineteenth century, doctors, philosophers and religious authorities had spoken of the ‘moral passions’ and ‘affectations of the soul’, Victorian physiologists turned their attention to the newly secular category of ‘the emotions’. Measuring raised pulses, horripilation, and dilated pupils, they re-framed fear, horror and disgust in the language of nerves, reflexes and evolution.”

Commenting on bodily responses to fear in ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals’ (1872) Darwin wrote:

“Gratiolet repeatedly insists that the pupils are enormously dilated whenever terror is felt…It seems … that the brain is directly affected by the powerful emotion of fear and reacts on the pupils; but Professor Donders informs me that this is an extremely complicated subject.”

Although Stevenson is writing about pupil contraction rather than dilation his focus on iris movement is significant.

Condylomatous iritis, associated with syphilis, right eye, by Franz Mracek. From Atlas of syphilis and the veneral diseases : including a brief treatise on the pathology and treatment. Wellcome Library, London. 

Condylomatous iritis, associated with syphilis, right eye, by Franz Mracek. From Atlas of syphilis and the veneral diseases : including a brief treatise on the pathology and treatment. Wellcome Library, London. 

What intrigues me is that well over one hundred years later, scientists are still attempting to correlate simplistic definitions of emotions with specific biological alterations of our bodily systems. And, again, finding that ascribing meaning to these changes is extremely difficult. An article published in The Scientist in 2012 encapsulates the highly problematic nature of using physiological changes in the body to signify ‘fixed’ emotional states. The authors concluded that although scientists could accurately observe pupil dilation in certain scenarios, they admit that “there was no scientific way to establish whether it measured interest or anxiety” in the individual. The ebbs and flows of emotional flux continually taking place as we experience the world, cannot be meaningfully decoded using surface displays or, for example, the rise and fall of respiratory rates, etc. as a measure.

Books, and people, it seems cannot be judged by their ‘covers’. Ironically, it was the cover of the Penguin classic that first caught my eye. Its haunting portrait is another example of composite photography; in this instance provided by Arthur Batut, suggesting a fractured identity: the multiple exposures subverting the traditional individual portrait into something ambiguously blurred.


Danny Rees is an Engagement Officer at the Wellcome Library and author of ‘Down in the mouth: Faces of pain’ in Pain and Emotion in Modern History, Palgrave MacMillan, 2014. He regularly gives public lectures on physiognomy.



Land & Emotion

Dan Eltringham


Arichonan Township, Patrick Mackie. Wikimedia Commons

Arichonan TownshipPatrick Mackie. Wikimedia Commons



It is hard to think about land and emotion clearly. The matter is obscured by a haze of affect. That is a cliché, and obvious, and puts me in mind of an early-morning mist which clouds things further, an image of false calm. Rising and burnt off as it wears on etc. These are some of the problems, seasons of mist. Start again. A polemical clarification might be to cut the notion of 'land' out of the putrid body of the patriotic emotions. Boiling blood. Bile. Footrot. With hyssop, lord, cleanse me. My faulty. My filth. Dip it in, sterilise fly-blown lands. And if the 'l' is dropped it leaves 'and', a hanging conjunctive giving on to an-other, another time or topos. L/and and. Land does not compel anything, let alone duty, and nor does it owe you or anybody anything. What you take must be balanced on different scales. Not the ethereal landskip. Nor, even, the rigorously unconsolatory post-post-sceptical awareness that said delightful prospect is managed (squeezed) and your enjoyment of it was drawn-up (predicted) in a suburban planning office far from the good green hills of oh wherever. (L)and not necessarily for the worse. Comforter, where is your comforting? O then sing it, like you mean it –


II. Clearances

My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go

– Robert Burns, ‘My Heart is in the Highlands’


The day will come, the Brahan Seer said, when

the Big Sheep will put the plough up in the rafters,

the day will come when

the Big Sheep will over-run the country,

all the Highlands become a deer forest

& the day will come when

they meet the Northern Sea &,

in the end, old men shall return from new lands


the fleecy new breeds, Cheviot & Blackface, they bore winter better, the mounting snows on their white backs, meanwhile cotters tying their animals & bairns to stakes against the high wind, O, my heart is not here


           for a sweeter place

I never did know

            an’ my heart’s got a hold there

wherever I go


Thomas the Rhymer got there first,

350 years before Coinnach he saw it


the clan structure fragmented & broken, half an hour to gather your property while they take your property, fire the thatch, Sir, I am a native of Sutherlandshire & the country was darkened by the smoke of the burnings, the devastators proceeded with the greatest celerity, I saw, I saw    


Up on the shelf

shall the useless plough                                                            

be laid by sheep’s teeth                                                           

calendric vernacular

beats a flow chart


the day came, 1792, Bliadhna nan Caorach, tenant farmers drive the Cheviots from Rossshire, beaten back brutally by British bastards my heart is here my heart is not here my heart was here my heart is there, an’ I’ll be in Scotland


& the heather is burning, burning                                                        


MacKenzie & Aird,                                                                  

Ross, Munro, MacKay

& Cunningham, sent

away “beyond seas                                                                  

to such places as His Majesty

shall appoint”, thank you very much

& not to return on pain of the gibbet


& other dispersals, forcibly chosen choices chosen for me, I saw the seeds of honesty eradicated almost I saw the productive fields of lying, swearing, thieving, I saw, O fare thee well my bonny heather burning, there’s fire in the thatch now


I dream in America with little or less

of the good green hills of Inverness


demolishing all before them then they came, purple flowers burning for burning, to these scenes I was a witness I am ready to substantiate my heart’s the land’s my heart


            O when I die

there bury me low

          ‘cause my heart’s got a hold there

wherever I go



Dan Eltringham is a poet and PhD student at Birkbeck College, University of London, working towards an AHRC-supported project on William Wordsworth, J. H. Prynne and the commons. He has published on R. F. Langley and Sean Bonney, with a book chapter forthcoming on Peter Riley and a commentary on Peter Larkin. His poetry and translations have appeared in Blackbox ManifoldThe GooseThe ClearingIntercapillary Space, Alba Londres 6: Contemporary Mexican Poetry and Scabs are Rats Zine 4, as well as in two pamphlets, Mystics and Ithaca. He is working on his first full-length poetry collection and co-edits Girasol Press.









Dr Jenner's Dead Cut: Emotions and the Meaning of Pain

                                                                               Rob Boddice

Lancet owned by Edward Jenner. Science Museum, London, Wellcome Images.

Lancet owned by Edward Jenner. Science Museum, London, Wellcome Images.


In the summer of 1808, the already famous Gloucestershire doctor, Edward Jenner, was in London, having a miserable time. The inventor of vaccine inoculation against smallpox was stuck in the City, waiting on the interminable bureaucracy of Parliament to finalise the details for the National Vaccine Establishment. He had many enemies: anti-vaccination pamphleteers who thought his ideas were eyewash; other vaccinators who coveted his glory; and personal nemeses who seemed to block his every move. Holed up in a place he abhorred, Jenner appealed to his friends for succour, but found them wanting. He perceived his opponents, ‘by the most abominable falsities’, endeavouring ‘to ruin my private character’. So much he could bear, ‘but when I find that no friend has step’d forth even to hold an Umbrella over my head it makes me feel miserable’. He went home at the end of the year, only to find out that events had unfolded to his distaste. The new Establishment was to nourish his enemies, and to dishonour Jenner himself. In desperation, he solicited advice: ‘I may most piteously exclaim, what shall I do?’ he asked Thomas Pruen. Pruen’s reply was dismissive: ‘I am sorry for your situation, but can afford you no kind of assistance’. Jenner felt this as a ‘dead Cut’ and told Pruen so:

What if a Man had met with an old Friend who had tumbled into a Cellar or any other kind of pit & had broke his bones & had pass’d by heedless of his moanings, saying I am sorry for you but cannot stay to help you out, because I have a pressing engagement, that I must attend to in another quarter? Would this have been balsam to his Wounds or a Caustic?

A month later, after some cooling off and some mollifying correspondence, Jenner announced that ‘the Cut is heald’.[1]

Until recently, such talk would have been filed under metaphor and left at that. Jenner was miserable, but not in pain. The ‘cut’ wasn’t real. Recent studies on the ways in which pain experience is managed by the brain have begun to change our approach, casting new light on the affective pain utterances of historical actors.[2] We’re now in a position to say, at least tentatively, that Jenner’s misery hurt.

            How so? The turn towards affect in both historical studies and the neurosciences has foregrounded the importance of emotions in giving meaning to, or in defining, painful experiences. In fact, without stimulation of the affective centres of the brain, there is no experience, only pain. On the one hand, studies of people with the rare condition of pain asymbolia have found that without affective involvement, pain is meaningless. People with this condition are fully able to sense pain, but completely unable to interpret it. Bodily injury elicits no fear, no anxiety, no compulsion to flee or fight. A hand is put into the flame and it burns, but there is no reason to withdraw it.[3] On the other hand, there are people who have no bodily injury whatsoever, but who feel the effects of, for example, social exclusion, as physical pain. Brain imaging has discovered that brain activity in affective centres under such conditions accords with what you would expect to see in a person suffering a physical injury.[4] In sum, physical pain requires an emotional component in order to be experienced as pain, while certain ‘negative’ emotions are experienced physically as painful.

            What’s the point? The science of pain is finally catching up with what sufferers have known all along: when they communicate that their body is in pain, they’re not making it up. But the specifics of the communication are contextually grounded, culturally formed. To take such utterances seriously is to entertain new potentialities in the history of experience. Much of the emotional suffering of the historical record – hysteria, melancholia, nostalgia, for example (to all of which Dr Jenner was prone) – has been under-treated by the history of medicine, in accord with twentieth-century medicine’s dualistic predilections, where pain is physical and suffering is only emotional or psychological. To enter into the historical experiences and meanings of suffering is to open up the possibility of understanding and interpreting the emotional and physical worlds of historical actors. Both the history of the body and the history of mentalités become united in a monistic history of experience that sets out to understand the dynamic relationship among emotions, their expression, bodily sensations and bodily practices.


Rob Boddice is an historian of science, medicine and the emotions, based in Berlin and Montreal. He is the editor of Pain and Emotion in Modern History (Palgrave, 2014), and Anthropocentrism: Humans, Animals, Environments (Brill, 2011), and the author of A History of Attitudes and Behaviours toward Animals (Mellen, 2009), Edward Jenner (History Press, 2015), and Pain: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2016).


[1] Taken from Jenners letters to Pruen, 6 Jul 1808, 9 Jan, 3 Mar, 6, Mar, 5 Apr 1809, Wellcome Library, London, MS 5240/ 80, 14, 18, 19, 20.

[2] See Rob Boddice, ed., Pain and Emotion in Modern History (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2014); Javier Moscoso, Pain: A Cultural History (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2012); Joanna Bourke, The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

[3] Nikola Grahek, Feeling Pain and Being in Pain, 2nd edn (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007), 36; Boddice, ‘Hurt Feelings?’, Pain and Emotion, 8-9; David Biro, ‘Psychological Pain: Metaphor or Reality?’, Pain and Emotion, 58.

[4] G. MacDonald and M.R. Leary, ‘Why Does Social Exclusion Hurt? The Relationship between Social and Physical Pain’, Psychological Bulletin, 131 (2005): 202-23; N.I. Eisenberger and M.D. Lieberman, ‘Why Rejection Hurts: The Neurocognitive Overlap between Social Pain and Physical Pain’, The Social Outcast: Ostracism, Social Exclusion, Rejection, and Bullying, eds K.D. Williams, J.P. Forgas and W. von Hippel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005): 109-27.

Photographic Experiences and Histories

                                                             Beatriz Pichel


A photographer appears to be photographing himself in a photographic studio: Wheeler, Berlin, Wis. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

A photographer appears to be photographing himself in a photographic studio: Wheeler, Berlin, Wis. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

One of my favorite things when I was living in Paris was sitting down at the edge of the Seine, look at the landscape and relax. At that time I had just started to be interested in photography, so I always carried my camera with me. I felt so well there that I spent most of the time taking photographs from different angles so I could keep that feeling. Needless to say, I failed.

My failure however was not so disappointing. After all, I barely looked at the photographs once uploaded to my laptop. But I kept carrying my camera everywhere I went, and that’s when I realized that the most important thing to me was taking pictures, not the resulting images. Photographing became a way to engage with the world. Through the camera I focused on details, I was aware of my surroundings and related to people in a particular way.

This experience has deeply shaped my academic work, but I’m not allowed to say it aloud. I have to justify my insights through theoretical readings that have informed my thinking in definite ways, of course, but without my experience I might have not became interested in them. It’s because I live photography in this way that I can understand, appreciate and contribute to photographic histories based on practices.

I think we, as historians, should start to recognize the weight and the value of personal experiences in our work. I’m not saying that we should directly project our experiences into others’ experiences. But this “subjective” perspective is just as bad as doing history from an alleged neutral, objective point of view, completely detached from the events it is reconstructing. Both are ways to appropriate the past. What I’m saying is that departing from personal experiences gives you a particular voice, a singular perspective to approach and analyze problems. It allows you to see what others don’t see.

Let’s be honest and recognize that we do history with our selves and our bodies.

Dr. Beatriz Pichel holds a PhD in history and philosophy of sciences at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain) and has been awarded a Wellcome Trust Fellowship in Medical Humanities for two years. Her work, at the crossroad of the history and theory of photography, the history emotions and the medical humanities, has examined the emergence of new meanings and experiences of death during the First World War in France, and it’s currently focused on the popularisation of psychological theories of emotions through photographs of theatrical actors at the turn of the nineteenth century.