Research Stream


Chris Rudge
The University of Sydney


Pain, Nervousness and the Neurology of Emotion, 1650–1750

This project examines some of the earliest developments and discoveries in the nerve sciences to show how various pathological nosologies of the sixteenth century shaped the assumptions and meanings that neurology, when it was established in the late nineteenth century, and later neuroscience, brought to its study of human emotions.


From the sixteenth-century and onward, many developments and discoveries in the nerve sciences promised to unveil the mysteries of human emotional disturbances. Foundational to neuroscience, these discoveries also augured many of the neuroscientific methods applied today. ‘By 1850’, Edwin Clarke and L. S. Jacyna write, ‘the foundations of neuroscience had been laid’.

‘Nervousness’ had begun as a definitive physiological concept in the 1600s, although several developments in eighteenth-century medicine saw the notion of ‘nervous disease’ transmogrify into a category of maladaptive emotional-affective disorder.

At this time, the pathophysiology of pain—as with nervous disorders more generally—was in its infancy; however, a definitive shift was underway. In the late sixteenth century, the French barber-surgeon Ambrose Paré had proposed that convulsions were caused by a ‘puncture of the nerves’, but by 1837, Paré’s view had been superseded, with physiologist Marshall Hall reflecting that convulsions were caused by the ‘influence of the mind and emotions’.

This project gathers together various historical and archival sources from medicine, literature and the law to address the way in which early modern medicine distinguished between nervous illness and emotions. The project develops a prehistory of neurology to show how these early developments shaped modern social and psychiatric conceptions of nervous disease and disorder.

Project-related Publications

Rudge, C. ‘Novel Readings: Mind- and Emotion-Reading Devices in the Mid-Twentieth Century and in Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch’. In Portable Prose: The Novel and the Everyday, edited by J. Cogle, N. C. Fischer, L. S. Rofail and V. Smith, pp. 37–56. Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2019 (published 2018).

Rudge, C. ‘Diagnosis at a Distance’. Literature, Law, Psychiatry, Politics: Notes by Chris Rudge. 1 February 2017.

Rudge, C. ‘The Goldwater rule prevents psychiatrists diagnosing Trump from afar but some say there’s too much at stake’. The Conversation, 4 August 2017.

Rudge, C. ‘Emotions and Device-Oriented Psychiatry in the Early Twentieth Century’. Histories of Emotion: From Medieval Europe to Contemporary Australia. 11 August 2017.