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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.
The January 2016 issue of Medical History is a special issue dedicated to “Tales from the Asylum. Patient Narratives and the (De)construction of Psychiatry.” The issue marks the 30th anniversary of Roy Porter’s seminal article, “The Patient’s View: Doing Medical History from Below. A full list of article titles, authors, and abstracts follows below.
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.
“‘No “Sane” Person Would Have Any Idea’: Patients’ Involvement in Late Nineteenth-century British Asylum Psychiatry,” by Sarah Chaney. The abstract reads, Continue reading Special Issue: “Tales from the Asylum. Patient Narratives and the (De)construction of Psychiatry”Share on Facebook
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.”
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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.
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The Journal of the History of the Neurosciences has published an article online by S. Huddleston and G. A. Russell (out of the Department of Humanities in Medicine, Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine) on the 19th century case of painter and murderer Richard Dadd.
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.
Find the abstract and full text here.
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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.
“‘A Burden on the County’: Madness, Institutions of Confinement and the Irish Patient in Victorian Lancashire,” by Catherine Cox and Hilary Marland. The abstract reads, Continue reading Social History of Medicine May IssueShare on Facebook
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.
Listen to the full piece here.
Works cited in the interview: Andrew Scull, (April, 2015) Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity, from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine. Lisa Appignanesi, (2009) Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 to the Present.
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The British Psychological Society’s History of Psychology Centre, in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines, has announced the next two talks as part of the BPS History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series. On Monday June 16th Graham Richards will be speaking on Some Psychological Facets of Creationism. Two weeks later Sarah Chaney (right) will be speaking on ‘A Perversion of Self-feeling’: The Emergence of Self-harm in Victorian Asylum Psychiatry. Full details, including abstracts, follow below.
The British Psychological Society History of Psychology Centre in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines
Location: UCL Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, London WC1E 7JG
Monday 16 June: Dr Graham Richards (UCL), Some Psychological Facets of Creationism. The abstract reads,
This presentation explores the psychological aspects of the debates around Creationism. It explores the psychological character of the ‘Argument from Design’ and how this has changed over time from Ray, via Paley to current Intelligent Design theorists, the underlying motivations of Creationists, and the relevance to these debates of Paul Tillich’s discussion of ‘types of anxiety,’ and the history of ‘literal’ biblical fundamentalism. It signposts how psychology has the potential to illuminate the Creationism/Intelligent Design issue in ways which might break what is currently a log-jam of ritualised argument and counter-argument.
Monday 30 June: Dr Sarah Chaney (UCL), ‘A Perversion of Self-feeling’: The Emergence of Self-harm in Victorian Asylum Psychiatry. The abstract reads,
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This paper explores the emergence of self-harm as a specific category of abnormal individual behaviour in the second half of the 19th century, when ‘self-mutilation’ was defined within asylum psychiatry. I will briefly explain the background of the asylum system and psychiatric profession in Western Europe and the USA in this period, and describe how ‘self- mutilation’ emerged from the interest clinicians had in classifying and defining ‘insane’ behaviour. In particular, this was associated with the widespread publicity given to the increasing decision to regard suicidal acts as evidence of mental illness. While it is often assumed today that Victorian writers made no distinction between suicidal and non-suicidal self-injury, I argue that this was not the case. Psychiatrists in the 19th century frequently claimed that self-mutilation was not carried out for suicidal reasons, although they differed in their method of applying alternative meaning to such acts.
Finally, I will explore why it was that this distinction was made in this particular period, and what led psychiatrists to draw parallels between different kinds of self-inflicted injury to create a universal category. The concept of self-harm today is often used to refer to an act of injury; this application, I argue, emerged from late 19th-century asylum psychiatry. While people had certainly harmed themselves in a variety of ways prior to this period, the late 19th century was the first time these diverse acts – from skin-picking to amputation – became regarded as equivalent behaviours. Combining them under the umbrella term ‘self-mutilation’ prompted the idea that some form of universal meaning might also be discoverable. Self-harm became viewed as an act that had meaning beyond the physical nature of any wounds inflicted or the immediate sensations caused; an act that revealed something of the character of an individual; and, in addition, an act that might help to explain the relationship between individual and society.
The April 2014 issue of Medical History includes an article of interest to AHP readers. Lindy Wilbraham (left), of Rhodes University, discusses the relationship between families and colonial lunatic asylums in late-nineteenth century South America. Title and abstract follow below.
“Reconstructing Harry: A Genealogical Study of a Colonial Family ‘Inside’ and ‘Outside’ the Grahamstown Asylum, 1888–1918,” by Lindy Wilbraham. The abstract reads,
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Recent scholarship has explored the dynamics between families and colonial lunatic asylums in the late nineteenth century, where families actively participated in the processes of custodial care, committal, treatment and release of their relatives. This paper works in this historical field, but with some methodological and theoretical differences. The Foucauldian study is anchored to a single case and family as an illness narrative that moves cross-referentially between bureaucratic state archival material, psychiatric case records, and intergenerational family-storytelling and family photographs. Following headaches and seizures, Harry Walter Wilbraham was medically boarded from his position as Postmaster in the Cape of Good Hope Colony of South Africa with a ‘permanent disease of the brain’, and was committed to the Grahamstown Asylum in 1910, where he died the following year, aged 40 years. In contrast to writings about colonial asylums that usually describe several patient cases and thematic patterns in archival material over time and place, this study’s genealogical lens examines one white settler male patient’s experiences within mental health care in South Africa between 1908 and 1911. The construction of Harry’s ‘case’ interweaves archival sources and reminiscences inside and outside the asylum, and places it within psychiatric discourse of the time, and family dynamics in the years that followed. Thus, this case study maps the constitution of ‘patient’ and ‘family’ in colonial life, c.1888–1918, and considers the calamity, uncertainty, stigma and silences of mental illness.
As the old adage goes, there is more than one way to share history. A new project that takes this idea to heart will be made available to the public next week. The Telegraph has reported that Edward Elgar’s “Music for Powick Asylum” will be available from Somm Recordings on March 3rd, 2014 (a book of the written music is already available).
Edward Elgar (1857–1934) was an English composer who, at the age of 22, was conductor of the attendants’ band at the Worcester and County Lunatic Asylum in Powick, England. In this role, he reportedly both coached his fellow musicians and wrote the music they played. As was commonly practiced during the period, the institution’s resident physician, James Sherlock, encouraged these musical performances as part of the Friday night dances that were held for patients.
The music written by Elgar for the Asylum band between 1879 and 1884 was forgotten until it was re-discovered by contemporary British conductor Barry Collett. First re-played for the closing of the institution in 1988, the collection has now been recorded by the Innovation Chamber Ensemble. In describing the music, The Telegraph quotes Collett as saying “Some are quirky, some are foot-tapping and some are full of grace. I love them all.”
Personally, one of the reasons I am so fascinated with this project is the auditory experience that it provides of the historical record. This recording brings to life the “sounds of the asylum” – or at least those that were heard on Friday nights. Dolly MacKinnon, of the University of Queensland, has written about the importance of the historical soundscape of asylums and the Elgar project provides an opportunity for contemporary listeners to glimpse into this auditory world. Needless to say, I have already ordered a copy of the album.Share on Facebook