Hysteria: rise and fall of a baffling disease. A review on history of ideas in medicine

Moreno Paulon

Ph.D. candidate, CHAM, Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas FCSH, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal

DOI 10.36148/2284-0249-461

The article presents a synthesis of the main stages in the construction of the conceptual entity targeted as hysteria.

Several academic papers report historical accounts of hysteria as a long-lasting – although disappeared – disease dating back to Hippocratic evidence. However, both philological research and the history of medicine, together with recent gender studies criticism, suggest that we shall reconsider the very origin of this category, thus questioning the features of its reality conditions across time. An account is given of this revisionism.

Hysteria is here presented as a Renaissance product, virtually dismissed by neurologists in the early 1900 but definitively waned only in 1987 and 1993 by WHO resolution, after having moved from neurology to psychiatry. Its history represents a challenging subject in the theme of objective knowledge in science, drawing our attention to the burden of the political choices taken by an epistemic community within knowledge production, legitimation and validation aiming for a scientific understanding of the world.

An account is given of the multi-layered construction and shifts of hysteria as a disease within the medical models of understanding, and of its progressive deconstruction over time.

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