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How Swedes became nervous

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Chapter Summary

In the nineteenth century, the grand dame of the neuroses was hysteria, which had been around as a female illness since antiquity. It made a diagnostic come-back in the 1880s, by which time the medical discussion of hysteria had become more scattered and confused. Together with hysteria, 'neurosis' became cultural illness par excellence. In 1769, the Scottish physician William Cullen used the term 'neurosis' in his Synopsis Nosologiae Methodicae to refer to the then established concept of 'nervous disease'. Cullen differentiated between general and local diseases, the first group comprising three classes, 'neuroses' among them. He then subdivided neuroses into four orders, arguing that neuroses resulted from "general alterations of the nervous system". The Swedish medical community was first introduced to Jean-Martin Charcot's hysteria and Beard's neurasthenia through reports written by Swedish physicians when they made study trips to the Salpêtrière.

Keywords: hysteria; Jean-Martin Charcot; neurasthenia; Scottish physician William Cullen; Swedes; Swedish medical community; William Cullen

10.1163/ej.9789004160750.i-391.19
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