Tag Archives: asylum

Music from the Asylum

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

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.

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Digitizing African American patient records

A project is underway to digitize the records of the Central State Hospital in Virginia. Led by King Davis, director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis at the University of Texas at Austin, the project includes some 800,000 documents which span the period between 1870 and 1970. The collection is extraordinarily unique both in terms of its size and its scope. Davis has described that: “This is the most complete set of records on African Americans and mental health in place in the world” (source: Alcalde).

The Central State Hospital – formerly the Central Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane – was opened in 1870. It was the only institution designated for the treatment of African Americans to operate in the state prior to the passing of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Its story is one of only a small handful of “Colored Asylums”: while institutions for the insane would open in every state in the continental US during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the vast majority served a uniquely White demographic.

The impetus for the project was reportedly the deterioration of the Central State Hospital’s records. Although digitization provides a way to preserve this rare archival collection, researchers must face the challenge of maintaining the privacy of the individual patients. To address these concerns the team is developing new Steganoscription software that will recognize the personal information contained within the handwritten documents.

Unfortunately the status of the project has been reported as “at a standstill” due to funding problems. In the meantime, a prototype of the website design can be found here.

(H/T: Smithsonianmag.com)

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HoP in the November 2013 issue of Social History of Medicine

The November 2013 issue of Social History of Medicine includes two articles that may be of interest to AHP readers. In the first of these articles, Rob Ellis discusses the role of politics in the management of the insane at London County Council’s asylums near Epsom. In a further article, Vicky Long examines the treatment of those with chronic mental disorders in Britain during the post-war period. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“‘A constant irritation to the townspeople’? Local, Regional and National Politics and London’s County Asylums at Epsom,” by Rob Ellis. The abstract reads,

In 1908, The Times described London County Council’s asylums near Epsom as ‘a constant irritation to the townspeople’. The article was specifically concerned with the patient walking parties that made their way into the town. This, and references to the site of the asylum, focused on the sense of imposition as local residents were forced to contend with London’s insane population. As the ‘townspeople’ negotiated the impact of the asylums, the Urban District Council and Lord Rosebery, a former Prime Minister, were to play central roles. The aim of this article is to uncover the motivations of the Council and Rosebery and the roles that first the asylums and then their patients played in the development of their views. Ultimately, it will be argued that although the Council and Rosebery operated outside the management structure of London Asylums, they were able to instigate changes to the ways in which patients were managed.

“Rethinking Post-war Mental Health Care: Industrial Therapy and the Chronic Mental Patient in Britain,” by Vicky Long. The abstract reads, Continue reading

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New Image Database Online: Weill-Cornell Medical Center Archives

Over the course of the summer months, the Weill-Cornell Medical Center Archives in New York have been uploading images from their collection into two new online databases: one for internal users and one that is open to the public. The public database, a part of the Shared Shelf Commons, can be searched directly by selecting “Cornell: New York-Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell” from the drop-down menu. The online collection features both drawings and photographs and includes building interiors and exteriors, staff, and events from the New York Hospital buildings, the Bloomingdale Asylum (later Hospital), the House of Relief, the Lying-in Hospital, the Medical School, and the Nursing School (for background on these institutions, click here). The earliest images date into the late 1700s, with photographs beginning in the late 1800s and running well into the 1970s.

The project is the result of a collaboration between the Archives, Cornell University, and ARTstor.org.

AHP readers may be interested to know that much of the Weill-Cornell Medical Center Archives’ print collection is also available digitally via the ever-growing archive.org site. This material includes:

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One More Summer Roadtrip: Wood County Lunatic House

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The Lunatic House sits beside the main Infirmary building

This is a special post co-authored by Jennifer Bazar, Elissa Rodkey, and Jacy Young and published simultaneously at both the Advances in the History of Psychology (AHP) and FieldNotes blogs.

Yes, we do listen to your suggestions! Earlier this summer, historian of psychology Ryan Tweney left us a comment in response to our post about our roadtrip to the Glore Psychiatric Museum in St Joseph, Missouri. Tweney said we might also enjoy visiting the “Lunatic House” in Bowling Green, Ohio – so we decided to make one last trip before fall was officially upon us.

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Front entrance to the Infirmary building

The Lunatic House in Bowling Green is actually a part of a collection of buildings that now constitute the Wood County Historical Center and Museum. The primary exhibits are located in the oldest and largest building on the property: the infirmary. The displays take you through the rooms, floors, and wings of the building – beginning first with the history of the County Home itself before growing outwards to include medical history, technological developments, and a history of Ohio.

The site is quite unique, as one of the last remaining county poorhouses in Ohio with a majority of the original structures still standing. The poorhouse system dates to the early nineteenth century in the Unites States. Individual counties provided residential institutions (often as part of farm land) to house those who were unemployed or otherwise did not have the financial means to support themselves. Much like other states, every county in Ohio opened its own poorhouse. By mid-century, the Ohio General Assembly ordered these facilities to take in a wider population including the infirm, the elderly, and the mentally ill – renaming the poorhouses “infirmaries.” They later took on the name “county home” in 1919. Continue reading

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Devon County Mental Hospital Digital Archive

A website chronicling the history of the Devon County Mental Hospital (formerly the Devon County Lunatic Asylum) at Exminster has recently launched. The site is an outgrowth of a series of projects undertaken by Nicole Baur and Jo Melling at the Exeter Centre for Medical History at the University of Exeter, along with John Draisey of the Devon Heritage Centre.

Included on the site are sections that detail the history of the hospital’s setting and operation and describe four case studies from archived patient records. The site also features a detailed bibliography of publications related to the hospital, as well as a section of multimedia material and a page soliciting memories from those with some association with the hospital. As the site itself describes,

This website takes you on a fascinating journey through the history of the Devon County Lunatic Asylum at Exminster. Based on archival case notes and supplemented by Medical Superintendents’ and Commissioners of Lunacy’s reports as well as interviews with former staff, we tell the stories of real patients and their journey into, and life within, the asylum, hoping to highlight changes in the legislation and care of people suffering from mental health problems.

The entire site can be explored here.

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New in Social History of Medicine

There are a number of articles in the just released May issue of Social History of Medicine that may be of interest to AHP’s readers. In a piece on music and hypnosis, James Kennaway explores the long and complicated relationship between music and selfhood from the time of Mesmeric uses of the glass harmonica (left) to more recent concerns about brainwashing. Additionally, two articles in the issue explore aspects of asylum history. The first discusses the role of the Irish Famine of the 1840s in Irish asylums, while the second explores efforts to control suicide in English public asylums in the latter half of the nineteenth century. A further piece delves into views on alcoholism in mid-to-late twentieth century Yugoslavia. Full titles, authors, and abstract follow below.

“Musical Hypnosis: Sound and Selfhood from Mesmerism to Brainwashing,” by James Kennaway. The abstract reads,

Music has long been associated with trance states, but very little has been written about the modern western discussion of music as a form of hypnosis or ‘brainwashing’. However, from Mesmer’s use of the glass armonica to the supposed dangers of subliminal messages in heavy metal, the idea that music can overwhelm listeners’ self-control has been a recurrent theme. In particular, the concepts of automatic response and conditioned reflex have been the basis for a model of physiological psychology in which the self has been depicted as vulnerable to external stimuli such as music. This article will examine the discourse of hypnotic music from animal magnetism and the experimental hypnosis of the nineteenth century to the brainwashing panics since the Cold War, looking at the relationship between concerns about hypnotic music and the politics of the self and sexuality.

“Revisiting a ‘Demographic Freak’: Irish Asylums and Hidden Hunger,” by Melinda Grimsley-Smith.The abstract reads, Continue reading

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APA Monitor: The American Asylum System

The March 2012 issue of the American Psychological Association‘s Monitor on Psychology has just gone online. In this month’s Time Capsule section, Ellen Holtzman describes the private asylum system that developed in the United States in the late 19th century and continued into the 20th century. Holtzman pays particular attention to Boris Sidis a medical doctor who also earned a PhD from Harvard under William James. As Holtzman describes,

In 1910, Sidis opened a private asylum, the Sidis Psychotherapeutic Institute, on the Portsmouth, N.H., estate of a wealthy New Englander. Hoping for referrals from psychologically minded colleagues, he announced the opening of his hospital in the Psychological Bulletin and advertised it in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, which he had founded. The ad noted that he would treat patients by “applying his special psychopathological and clinical methods of examination, observation and treatment.”

Sidis touted the luxury of the asylum’s accommodations and setting, even more than the availability of psychotherapy. “Beautiful grounds, private parks, rare trees, greenhouses, sun parlors, palatial rooms, luxuriously furnished private baths, private farm products,” wrote Sidis in his brochure describing the institute. Moreover, he offered his patients the somatic treatments of hydrotherapy and electrical stimulation, as did his less psychologically minded colleagues. The emphasis on luxury combined with the availability of the popular somatic treatments, even in an institution created by an “advanced” thinker like Sidis, suggests that wealthy patients expected a traditional, medical approach to treatment….

As the Sidis Institute illustrates, life in the small, private asylums contrasted sharply with conditions in the late 19th-century public institutions. Patients at public hospitals were usually involuntarily committed, and they typically displayed violent or suicidal behavior before their hospitalization. The public hospitals were overcrowded and dirty, with bars on the windows. The staff was poorly paid and frequently treated patients harshly. Given these terrible conditions, well-to-do patients used their wealth to take shelter in a physician’s home and escape the fate of the poor. Not surprisingly, the cost of a private hospitalization was steep. Sidis, for example, charged $50 to $100 and “upwards” a week ($50 would be equivalent to roughly $1,000 today). “Bills are payable in advance,” he informed his prospective patients.

The entire article can here read online here.

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New History of Psychology Podcasts!

Christopher Green (left), producer of the podcast series This Week in the History of Psychology (or TWITHOP) and AHP faculty consultant, is back at work producing podcasts on the history of psychology.

Green has just released an episode of what is to be an occasional series, Discussions in the History of Psychology (or DitHoP). In this inaugural episode Vincent (Vinny) Hevern (centre), Henderikus (Hank) Stam (right), and Robert (Bob) Kugelman (not pictured) sat down with Green to discuss the history psychology’s “Third Force,” Humanistic psychology. You can find that episode here.

A further podcast series, History of Psychology Laboratory (or HooPLa!) is also being produced. The first episode of this series tackles the history of the nineteenth century lunatic asylum, and features interviews with noted historians Andrew Scull, David Wright, Elizabeth Lunbeck, and Gerald Grob. The discussion in this episode is led by Jennifer Bazar, and features Jeremy Burman and Jacy Young (all of whom are Green’s graduate students and AHP bloggers). A second episode on the history of mental testing is in the works and a third episode on the history of comparative psychology is in the planning stages.

Finally, Green et al. are at work on a new series, TWITHOP: Shorts. This podcast series will consist of brief (approximately 5 minute) reviews of significant new journal articles about the history of psychology. The first episode of this series is on Fridlund, Beck, Goldie, & Irons’ article “Little Albert: A Neurologically Impaired Child,” forthcoming from the journal History of Psychology (and currently available through APA’s PsycArticles on-line first initiative), with further episodes to come.

You can find these podcasts, as well as Green’s original series TWITHOP, here. Subscribe through iTunes here.

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AHP & FieldNotes @ Utica’s “Old Main”

This is a special post co-authored by Jeremy Burman and Jennifer Bazar. It is co-hosted at both the Advances in the History of Psychology (AHP) and FieldNotes blogs.

On Thursday we were given a unique opportunity to tour the interior of the building that was originally opened as the New York State Lunatic Asylum in Utica, NY. Built in 1843 to house the state’s so-called insane, the building remains an imposing example of Greek Revival architecture complete with six 48′ tall limestone columns flanking the main entrance.

We began the day in the contemporary institution on the property, the Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center. Within the building is displayed a number of historical photographs and furniture (including a decorative fireplace!) from the original building. Among this collection was a large painting of Amariah Brigham, the institution’s first medical superintendent, which had been commissioned by some of the patients. Brigham was extremely influential in asylum history: he was one of the founders of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions (precursor to American Psychiatric Association), launched the American Journal of Insanity (precursor to the American Journal of Psychiatry), and created several unique items including a phrenological hat and the Utica crib. Continue reading

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