JF Ptak Science Books Post 1450
This series is meant to illustrate the very transitory, shadowy and basically non-existent nature of "normal".
"It is thus with regard to the disease called Sacred: it appears to me to be nowise more divine nor more sacred than other diseases, but has a natural cause like other affections. . ."--Hippocrates on epilepsy and recognizing it as just another brain disorder devoid of mysticism, about 2400 years ago.
One stop in the history of normalcy is the perception of brain disorders, which is a long and complex history--very long in the case of epilepsy, its epidemiology stretching back thousands of years before Hippocrates. It particular normalcy for the vast majority of that time was that people who exhibited the results of the disorder were cursed, or touched by the gods as holders of some possible divine inspiration, or touched by the gods as accursed and punished people, or bewitched (I wonder about the number of epileptics put to the flame during the Witch Hunt crazes), and so on. The first pharmaceutical treatments for the disorder really didn't come about until Emil Fischer and Bayer introduced phenobarbitol in 1902/04, which was able to calm the seizures of some people with epilepsy. Until that point, most treatments were generally topical, plus the quack ingestives and various sorts of incantations, spells and prayers.
In Dr. William T. Shanahan's Colonies for Epiletpics, (the original available for purchase through our blog bookstore) written in 1912, the treatment of epileptics was seculsion, warehousing them in state asylums in the countryside. Shananhan felt that the epileptic needed "its" own environment, "apart from the the defectives"--and by that he meant apart from the wide classification of people who did not fit the scheme of 1912 normalcy, like "morons, imbeciles, the insane, the sexual addict, the recurring syphlitic [and] the criminally insane...". Actually this as a good move in some cases--apart from the vocabulary--as epileptics were stored away in almshouses and prisons along with the criminal element and the hopelessly insane, and at least removed the epileptic from a different sort of horror and disgrace.
Dr. Shanahan's aim was to remove the epileptic from society because they "couldn't adjust to a life in the ordered community" and that holding a job for them was "impossible"--that plus what he saw as the need to protect society from the epileptic's "progressive mental deterioration". He felt that "the great majority should be committed[to the epileptic colonies] as are the insane", and also to remove them to these places "from a young age", to an "institution for defectives", there separated according to "sex and mental grade".
Overall, though, it was Shanahan's other aim to provide as "normal" a life for epileptics as could be arrived at, and outside of his trying to save society from them--at a time when the eugenics people were out castrating epileptics--, he was arguing that this method was the best of all possible worlds for people with this disorder. He does however seem to be totally ignorant of any medical approach to dealing with epilepsy.
By the way, there's a very curious imprint on the back cover of this pamphlet showing who printed it and where. I cannot recll ever having seen such a small thign, placed so centrally, in such an obvious place. Its obvious and present, yet tiny. Here it is, before magnification:
And here is what the slug says: