A recent article in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine may be of interest to AHP readers. Exploring the happenings at the New York State Lunatic Asylum, Kathleen Brain describes how the antebellum asylum asserted ownership over the prevention of suicide and the ramifications of this claim. Full details below.
““The Weight of Perhaps Ten or a Dozen Human Lives”: Suicide, Accountability, and the Life-Saving Technologies of the Asylum,” by Kathleen M. Brian. The abstract reads,
By accounting for the law’s productive capacity to structure asylum physicians’ encounters with suicide, this essay argues that the antebellum asylum was a technology for the preservation of life. The essay first shows how suicide’s history as a crime encouraged popular attributions of suicide to insanity. What began as a tactic to protect survivors, however, ended by bolstering the professional claims of asylum medicine. Initially it appeared there was much to gain from claiming suicide as their own, but dominion over prevention in fact rendered asylum physicians and their staffs vulnerable in unanticipated ways: for while agents of suicide were effectively evacuated of legal responsibility, a variety of laws made physicians more accountable than ever. Focusing on medical superintendent Amariah Brigham and his staff at the New York State Lunatic Asylum shows how the anxiety of assuming guardianship over the suicidal created networks of accountability that profoundly affected daily life.
A new national project, After the Asylum/Après l’asile, documenting the shift from institutional care to community mental health in Canada has recently launched. As historians Megan Davies and Erika Dyck discuss in a recent blog post,
The shift from institutional to community mental health was among the most significant social changes of the late 20th century. Between 1965 and 1980 nearly 50,000 beds were closed in residential psychiatric facilities across Canada. De-institutionalization profoundly changed the lives of former patients and those who worked with them, impacting the larger economy, public health and social planning, and challenging ideas of individual rights and capabilities.
The first national project of its kind, After the Asylum/Après l’asilepresents this complex and often difficult history, making clear its continuing relevance. We examine early mental health initiatives, we consider how therapeutic and professional contours of care were reshaped, and we explore new consumer / user networks and cultures that emerged. Many of the exhibits speak to the continuing social and economic marginalization of people deemed mentally ill, whose lives are often poignant testaments to the limits of a reconstituted mental health system.
…begin with a morning of talks on various aspects of the history of psychiatry and mental health, to provide some inspiration for the editing to come! After a break for lunch, we’ll dive into some wiki-training from Alice White, Wikimedian in Residence at the Wellcome Library, which will cover everything from to creating an account and to how to edit. After learning your way around and getting comfortable with editing, you will have the opportunity to develop articles on the history of psychiatry: there are lots of pages on institutions, groups and individuals (particularly women) that are missing or very brief, so there’s lots of scope for making some exciting improvements!
Complete beginners are welcome to attend, and no previous experience is necessary, though a little digital skill is needed – but if you can use Microsoft Word, you can edit Wikipedia. Participants should bring a laptop or tablet (or request one in advance when you sign up) – editing is much easier with a keyboard. If you’ve spotted an article that needs improving, bring along your queries and we’ll see what we can do to help!
Individuals are also welcome to join the event remotely. Full details are available here.
Follow the rise and fall of the mental asylum and explore how it has shaped the complex landscape of mental health today. Reimagine the institution, informed by the experiences of the patients, doctors, artists and reformers who inhabited the asylum or created alternatives to it.
Today asylums have largely been consigned to history but mental illness is more prevalent than ever, as our culture teems with therapeutic possibilities: from prescription medications and clinical treatment to complementary medicines, online support, and spiritual and creative practices. Against this background, the exhibition interrogates the original ideal that the asylum represented – a place of refuge, sanctuary and care – and asks whether and how it could be reclaimed.
Taking Bethlem Royal Hospital as a starting point, ‘Bedlam: the asylum and beyond’ juxtaposes historical material and medical records with individual testimonies and works by artists such as David Beales, Richard Dadd, Dora García, Eva Kotátková, Madlove: A Designer Asylum, Shana Moulton, Erica Scourti, Javier Téllez and Adolf Wölfli, whose works reflect or reimagine the institution, as both a physical and a virtual space.
Editorial: “The Patient’s Turn Roy Porter and Psychiatry’s Tales, Thirty Years on,” by Alexandra Bacopoulos-Viau and Aude Fauvel. No abstract.
“Animal Magnetism, Psychiatry and Subjective Experience in Nineteenth-Century Germany: Friedrich Krauß and his Nothschrei,” by Burkhart Brückner. The abstract reads,
Friedrich Krauß (1791–1868) is the author of Nothschrei eines Magnetisch-Vergifteten [Cry of Distress by a Victim of Magnetic Poisoning] (1852), which has been considered one of the most comprehensive self-narratives of madness published in the German language. In this 1018-page work Krauß documents his acute fears of ‘mesmerist’ influence and persecution, his detainment in an Antwerp asylum and his encounter with various illustrious physicians across Europe. Though in many ways comparable to other prominent nineteenth-century first-person accounts (eg. John Thomas Perceval’s 1838 Narrative of the Treatment Experienced by a Gentleman or Daniel Paul Schreber’s 1903 Memoirs of my Nervous Illness), Krauß’s story has received comparatively little scholarly attention. This is especially the case in the English-speaking world. In this article I reconstruct Krauß’s biography by emphasising his relationship with physicians and his under-explored stay at the asylum. I then investigate the ways in which Krauß appropriated nascent theories about ‘animal magnetism’ to cope with his disturbing experiences. Finally, I address Krauß’s recently discovered calligraphic oeuvre, which bears traces of his typical fears all the while showcasing his artistic skills. By moving away from the predominantly clinical perspective that has characterised earlier studies, this article reveals how Friedrich Krauß sought to make sense of his experience by selectively appropriating both orthodox and non-orthodox forms of medical knowledge. In so doing, it highlights the mutual interaction of discourses ‘from above’ and ‘from below’ as well as the influence of broader cultural forces on conceptions of self and illness during that seminal period.
AHP‘s very own contributor Jennifer Bazar has curated a fascinating online historical archive and exhibit on the Oak Ridge forensic mental health division of the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care in Penetanguishene, Ontario. Find the exhibit here.
Established in 1933 and closed last year (2014), the Oak Ridge division at Waypoint was Ontario’s only maximum security forensic hospital served by both the provincial criminal justice and mental health systems. The exhibit opens the locked doors of its eighty one year history “to dispel the misconceptions and stereotypes that surround forensic mental health care centres and their clients,” and compellingly tells its unique story by sharing artefacts, photographs, and archival documents “to demonstrate how treatment practices, security restrictions, and individual experiences both changed and remained consistent” throughout the institute’s existence. Exhibit sections include: Origins, Building, Legislation, Treatment, Daily Life, Patients, Staff, Research, and Community.
You can also browse through the exhibit content here (400+ items total: photos, docs, artefacts, audio, video), and please look forward to further additions to the collection over the next year including “personal experiences from patient case records, interviews, and oral histories with former staff members of the Oak Ridge division.”
Continuing the theme of the history of madness that has organically cropped up in our posts as of late, the Finnish University of Oulu‘s Department of the History of Science and Ideas has launched a new forum for scholars of madness as a substantive topic with a geographic focus on the Nordic region specifically, Europe at large, but with a global scope.
Their mission statement is as follows:
The main purpose of Madness Studies is to provide a useful platform for communication, cooperation and collaboration across national borders and disciplinary boundaries. At this early stage, the primary goal is to compile data about scholars, doctoral students and research groups involved in research activities, as well as inform about conferences, journals, books and primary sources. Potential future forms of activities include a founding of a society and organization of meetings devoted to the multidisciplinary aspects of madness.
Current projects include: modern depression and contemporary culture in Finland, a history of the life and conditions of Danish children and adults who were taken into public care during the period 1945–1980, mental health, medicine and social engineering in 20th century Finland, and perspectives on current forms of social vulnerabilities in contemporary Finnish society.
Current scholars range from Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK, and Spain in Europe, to Canada, the US, Argentina, and Australia.
Find further details here. Apply to join the network here!
The authors employ examples of Dadd’s art (the majority of which created during his incarceration at Bethlem and Broadmoor hospitals) as a lens to explore the shifting social politics of theories of physiognomy in clinical practice and public perception. The idiosyncratic and atypical subjects of Dadd’s works defied both the early and over-determined categories of mad facial features championed by the renowned anatomist Charles Bell, and the nondistinctive challenge thereto by alienist Alexander Morison. In doing so, the authors argue, Dadd’s interpretation forshadowed more modern approaches to physiognomic diagnostics.
The May 2015 issue of Social History of Medicine is now online. The issue includes a number of items that may be of interest to AHP readers, including an article on Irish patients in the Victorian Lancashire asylum system and one on the importance of black celebrity activism in making the mental health of black youth a civil rights issue. The issue also includes a special section, “Focus on Learning from Pain,” where a number of recent volumes on the history of pain are reviewed. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
The March 17 2015 episode of BBC 3’s Free Thinking with Matthew Sweet featured authors Andrew Scull and Lisa Appignanesi, who discussed the history of madness within Western contexts–the reflexive relations between how it has been conceptualized and experienced, philosophical and theoretical changes in how it has been studied academically and professionally, and the shifting social politics of how it is apprehended and engaged with by the publics at large.