‘Die Betrachtung der optischen Erscheinungen, welche die Geisteskranken bieten’

Bregt Lameris


This article focuses on the use of photography as a scientific instrument in neuropsychiatry around the turn of the century. Probably the most well known example is Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot who was based in Paris. However, patients were also being captured on the sensitive plate in other places.

This article looks at the case of Professor Robert Sommer who was the director of the Centre for Psychiatry in Giessen from 1895. There he introduced stereoscopic photography as a scientific instrument to
research the relationship between defects in the nervous system and the physiognomy of his patients. Interestingly, nowadays research into physiognomy within neuropsychiatric research is regarded as
being non-objective and pseudo-scientific. This indicates that science should always be seen and judged in its own day. The book Objectivity by Daston and Galison (2007) researches this symptom and analyses shifts in opinions about scientific objectivity. By placing Robert Sommer’s work within these debates about scientific objectivity, the article shows clearly how his work relates to the wider scientific discourses of his time.

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ISSN: 2213-7653