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Archives Delve Into History of Trauma

A drawing of two men in a study entitled, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, meet your real-life counterpart, "Louis." In January 1886, the same month Robert Louis Stevenson published his tale of a prominent London physician with a split personality, another British author wrote about Louis and his "multiplex personality."

But while Stevenson's story is fiction, the tale of Louis is true, and you can find it documented in the "Trauma Archives" in the UO Library.

The Trauma Archives are a unique collection of scientific and medical literature related to psychological trauma, with documents dating back to 1862. The literature is especially concerned with the phenomenon of "dissociation," a term applied to people who disconnect from their memories and sense of identity.

Examples of dissociation include amnesia and Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder).

The case of Louis, for instance, was published by Frederic W. H. Myers, one of the founders of the 19th century Society for Psychical Research, in the Journal of Mental Science.

After a frightening incident with a viper as a 14-year-old, the docile Louis experienced epileptic fits, bouts of paralysis and fantastical changes in personality. Eventually, doctors identified at least six states marked by changes in personality, memory and physical condition.

Stories like Louis's have been collected together to create the Trauma Archives under the leadership of UO psychology professor Jennifer Freyd, a national expert in the field. Freyd spearheaded the effort to collect and digitize trauma literature after a suggestion by colleague Frank Putnam, M.D. The UO Libraries provided much of the labor in assembling the collection, starting with resources already in the university libraries.

The archives debuted in March 2008, giving readers access to the texts of papers published between 1862 and 1922, which offer a historical perspective into the field, and every issue of the journal Dissociation: Progress in the Dissociative Disorders, which was published from 1988 to 1997.  

- Amanda Miles

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