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'On the different Species of Phobia’ and ‘On the different Species of Mania’ (1786): from popular furies to mental disorders in America
  1. Diederik F Janssen
  1. Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Diederik F Janssen, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands; diederikjanssen{at}


Benjamin Rush’s twin 1786 letters on the different species of phobia and mania sit at an extended historical juncture at which an early modern quasi-medical troping of mental disorder in American social commentary sobered up to mental medicine. The letters’ satirical drive hinged on a perennial problem still occupying George Beard almost a century onward: which idiosyncratic trepidation or ill-grounded idea warranted the nomination of national and epochal ill? Rush’s mania letter exemplified an established genre identifying popular and especially political crazes; at the same time, it foreshadowed the early 19th-century rise and mid-century fall of monomania as forensic-nosological stopgap. The phobia text established the term’s dictionary (OED) sense of specific morbid fears, but did so in the form of a mobilisation of nosological jargon for social diagnostics purposes: an ambivalent prelude to Rush’s later formal engagement with unreasonable fears and follies. Both letters draw attention to a pervasive duality in early modern and Enlightenment conceptions of hydrophobia, aerophobia, syphilophobia and lyssophobia, between public-health and mental-hygienic follies.

  • literature and medicine
  • psychiatry
  • cultural history

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data sharing not applicable as no datasets generated and/or analysed for this study. No data are available.

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