‘Restless tides of electrical being’: epilepsy research, neuroscience and subjectivity in post-war Britain

Year of award: 2016


  • David Saunders

    Queen Mary University of London

Project summary

My project will critically examine experimental epilepsy research in Britain in the two decades after the end of the Second World War. I will investigate how interactions between neuroscientific concepts of the brain and psychological concepts of the mind shaped the practices, technologies and procedures used to understand and treat epilepsy. As well as examining the role of researchers, I will explore how participants influenced the research programmes. I will focus on three programmes: the neurosurgical programme of Murray Falconer at the Maudsley Hospital, London, in which temporal lobectomies were used to treat ‘intractable’ cases of epilepsy; the electroencephalographic research of William Grey Walter at Burden Neurological Institute, Bristol, where EEG technologies were used to reveal the mechanisms behind seizures; and the Epilepsy Society which trialled anti-seizure medications. 

By comparing these programmes, I will assess recent claims regarding the ‘colonisation’ of ideas of consciousness, the emotions, and subjectivity by the neurosciences in the late 20th century.