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The Age of StressScience and the Search for Stability$
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Mark Jackson

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199588626

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199588626.001.0001

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The Shock of Modernity

The Shock of Modernity

(p.21) 1 The Shock of Modernity
The Age of Stress

Mark Jackson

Oxford University Press

In 1881, the American neurologist George M. Beard claimed that many Americans were suffering from nervous exhaustion or `neurasthenia’ as the result of major transformations in modern society: `American nervousness’, he argued, was caused by the development and rapid spread of steam power, the telegraph and the press, by the evolution of scientific knowledge, and by the increasing mental and occupational activities of women. Chapter One explores the manner in which Beard's preoccupation with nervous exhaustion was not confined to clinical accounts of neurasthenia. Amplified by concerns about the physical and mental degeneration of Western populations, about health hazards posed by modern patterns of work and warfare, and about risks associated with advanced civilisation, Beard's focus on energy and fatigue was also evident in debates about the apparent rise in insanity amongst stressed employees and anxious school children, in discussions about increasing levels of fatigue and traumatic neurosis amongst industrial workers, in disputes about the role of nervous instability and stress in generating the symptoms of shell shock, and in contemporary belief in the ability of nerve tonics to restore depleted energy and enhance the capacity to withstand the stress of modern lives.

Keywords:   neurasthenia, shock, modernity, world war I, fatigue, insanity, trauma

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