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When scholars study the history of specific health conditions, they can usually identify a specific moment when uncertainty and guesswork gave way to scienti fic explanations and treatments that are proven to have some degree of efficacy. So, for instance, when it became possible to produce and market insulin as a drug, diabetes was transformed from a certain death sentence to a chronic condition that could be managed and lived with for many years. When pharmaceutical products became available to treat migraines effectively, migraines came to be understood as a specific type of headache rather than a personality defect or a consequence of unhealthy behavior. When medications proved effective at lowering blood pressure, hypertension came to be understood as a long-term or chronic condition that is relatively benign as long as the patient complies with the physician’s recommendations. This phenomenon of new discoveries or breakthroughs in science and medicine is one of the most central forms of movement that rhetorical scholars have studied and, of course, such scholarship has produced significant evidence to complicatethenotionthatsignificantchangesliketheseoccuratasinglemoment, or as the response to a single discovery of a lone scientist working in the laboratory . By studying science as argument—and by applying rhetorical concepts such as topos and kairos—we know now that discovery is a much more complex form of movement than might have been previously believed, that no new idea is ever entirely new, and that the impression of scientific advancement as the product of new facts that erupt fully formed at a single moment is usually itself a product of carefully executed rhetorical activity on the part of individual scientists or research teams. Nonetheless, for most of the objects of study that have received significant attention from scholars of the history of medicine— including diseases such as diabetes, migraines, and hypertension—it is possible Hysteria from Ancient Texts Until the Nineteenth Century | The Womb as Topological Space 2 19094-Koerber_FromHysteria.indd 17 19094-Koerber_FromHysteria.indd 17 1/15/18 4:41 PM 1/15/18 4:41 PM 18 from hysteria to hormones to identify a turning point—a place and time—when it at least appears to be the case that the disease being studied that was previously seen as incurable came to be understood as a condition that might be chronic but could be managed through the proper application of techniques or substances developed by biomedical scientists. In this regard, hysteria is a health condition that stands in sharp contrast to most others that have been extensively studied by historians of medicine. Never has a health condition caused so much confusion for medical experts yet, at the same time, been subject to so many different interventions and treatment recommendations .As stated in the previous chapter, medical use of the term hysteria can be traced from the texts of Ancient Greek physicians up until 1994,when the term hysterical neurosis was finally removed from the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. However, unlike the many other health conditions that have been studied by historical researchers, we cannot identify a moment when it appears from the outside that hysteria came to be understood more clearly or to be seen as a treatable condition. Rather, it seems that the harder that experts worked to find answers, the more this disease eluded them. Thus, in the case of hysteria, confusion and conflicting recommendations intensi fied over the centuries until finally, sometime during the twentieth century, it became fashionable to move on to other ways of explaining the multiple symptoms that had come to be affiliated with this primarily female condition. As stated in a 1965 article in the British Journal of Medicine,“it is generally agreed that no one has yet framed a satisfactory definition of ‘hysteria’; but it is usually claimed that it can be recognized when met with.” Through close analysis of medical texts published between ancient times and the nineteenth century, this chapter exposes the many ways in which hysteria eluded even the best and brightest scientific and medical experts. This chapter’s close analysis reveals how the meaning of hysteria has changed throughout the centuries as each new generation of experts has attempted, yet failed, to craft explanations more scientific than those of their predecessors. Drawing from Serres’s notion of topology, I argue in this chapter that the womb has persisted as a key construct, and throughout the...


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