Mental Health Monday Meets History

Vicki Tremper (writer, blogger, crit partner extraordinaire) asks:

Who was the first case of amnesia?

EXCELLENT question, Vicki! Namely, because I had a hard time finding cases of amnesia in antiquity…certainly, amnesia’s been around for as long as people have been, however the first DOCUMENTED case was Ansel Bourne (thank you, Wikipedia).

Ansel was an evangelical preacher in Rhode Island during the 1800s. Initially a carpenter, he experienced what is now assumed to be a dissociative fugue (where an individual suddenly develops amnesia, forgetting major facts about him or herself and his or her life) and became a preacher. He published his experience in 1857 (I wonder if he had to query a bunch of agents first 😉 ).

In January 1887, he again developed this fugue state, traveled to Pennsylvania where he started a confectioner’s shop under the name Brown. His memory returned two months later, in March. Interestingly, he had no memory of leaving home and had no idea two months had gone by.

Wild, right?

Perhaps the blogosphere has heard of an earlier case. Do tell!

Be sure to check out Lydia’s Medical Monday post and Sarah’s psychologically related post. You won’t regret it!

17 comments on “Mental Health Monday Meets History

  1. Sarah says:

    So interesting. Of course, a lot of amnesia comes from traumatic brain injury of varying degrees of severity, so I wonder if there are accounts of more organically-caused amnesia that just aren’t called that. Dissociative fugue is a completely different animal–I have a character in one of my books that (may or may not) have that disorder! It’s fun to write!

  2. Lynn Rush says:

    How interesting. I love the phenomenon of amnesia. It’s so intriguing. I’ve written it into a couple of my novels. Agoraphobia and panic attacks are interesting things to write as well.

    I know, I’m sick.

  3. Lydia K says:

    Ha ha ha on the “did he have to query first?”

    So fascinating! Great question and great answer.

  4. Vicki Tremper says:

    Thanks for answering my question, Laura!

    The reason I asked is that I have a character in 1895 Paris who is diagnosed with amnesia (she doesn’t actually have it, but she needs to pretend to be someone else so she can’t answer the doctor’s questions truthfully, so that’s what he comes up with). So I wanted to be sure a doctor in that time and place would actually be aware of amnesia and might consider it as a diagnosis.

  5. Kendall Grey says:

    I love reading these mental health posts. Disassociative fugue sounds awesome, hahaha! My main character in my trilogy suffers from panic attacks, but I have yet to play with amnesia. Something to think about…

  6. Indigo says:

    I also, wonder if there isn’t a natural cause of amnesia, stress related other than injury or head trauma. It’s a great little nugget to write in any book. (Hugs)Indigo

  7. These are always so fascinating!

  8. Bourne. I wonder if this is why Ludlum used Jason Bourne as the character in his Bourne novels?

    These kinds of things really draw me in. I would panic if I didn’t know who I was. It’s hard for me to imagine.

  9. Donna Hole says:

    An interesting question. Glad you could find something on it. I too wondered if this case was the inspiration for Jason Bourne.


  10. Linda Gray says:

    Fascinating! Could you do a post someday on what happens in the brain that allows amnesia, and maybe venture into reasons why? Would love to know more.

  11. roguemutt says:

    Wow, that’s fascinating. I wonder who was the first writer to decide that amnesia was an awesome plot device?

  12. That is totally wild. I’m impressed he lived such a productive life when he couldn’t remember who he was.

  13. Kerri Cuevas says:

    How weird is that. Imagine waking up in PA? Nice job finding out that tidbit!

  14. Talli Roland says:

    Wow, that’s super interesting. Thanks!

  15. akossket says:

    I had no idea… O.O
    Thanks to Vicki for asking this question.
    For whatever reason I used to assume Amnesia was just as old as say… Tuberculosis or something.
    I’ve learned something new today. Hurray!

  16. […] so a few commentors on my Mental Health Monday post about amnesia asked some great follow up questions. I’d like to address one by Indigo and Linda […]

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