February 1, 2012

Making Healthy Minds and Bodies in Syria, 1903-1958

Beverly Tsacoyianis, Dissertation
My dissertation focus is on changing local healing concepts and practices concerning members of society perceived to be deviant in 1920s-1950s Syria. By studying mental health, I analyze how certain individuals labelled others or found themselves labelled as disabled, criminal, contagious, or threatening to society. I study how these health practices (ranging from biomedical/ psychiatric to vernacular/ folk and hybrids of such approaches) were manipulated for political and social goals in 20th century Syria. My methodological interests are in social, cultural, and medical history. I rely on more than a hundred psychiatric patient case files from a hospital near Damascus, several literary works that serve as historical fiction and semi-autobiographies of Syrian novelists and physicians, and press sources. Transnational travel and migrant experiences are an important aspect of the networks of some of the physicians and novelists in this data, as well as in the lives of many of the patients, who migrate from rural to urban centers, live in refugee camps, or travel to family members or hospitals in other communities. My work will contribute to scholarly debates in the history of medicine as well as to debates about the role of the state and various non-state actors in preserving health and shaping the bodies and minds of citizens. My qualifying fields are the Modern Middle East; pre-modern Islamic science, medicine and government; and Global and Comparative History.