UC Davis Disability Studies Blog

About once a month, the editors of the UC Davis Disability Studies Blog post a listing of recently published historical articles about disability (somewhat broadly defined).

Some of the ones published this month might be of interest to H-Madness readers. Titles and abstracts below:

Coleborne, Catharine. “Insanity, Gender, and Empire: Women Living a ‘Loose Kind of Life’ on the Colonial Institutional Margins, 1870-1910,” Health and History 14(1)(2012): 77-99.

This article examines how female immigrants were characterised inside the Yarra Bend Asylum in Melbourne, Victoria (Hospital for the Insane after 1905), once they slipped into the world of the institutionally ‘hidden.’ Forms of social difference inside colonial institutions for the insane were embedded in patient case records. This article argues that through a closer examination of cases of female immigrants, we might find out more about gender relations in colonial situations. In particular this article returns to ideas about women patients and constructions of these women through case records to uncover new interpretations of this material in the Australasian context. To do this, it sets out specific ways of reading patient cases and teases out the importance of these frameworks for making some kind of synthesis of the ways in which institutionalised people–already at the margins of society–were further marginalised inside institutional populations through specific practices. It examines immigrant women in the hospitals for the insane; the cases of women designated as living so-called ‘loose’ lives who also ended up inside the institution for the insane; and finally concludes with a commentary about the descriptive power of cases and the production of concepts of gender, class, and race difference within their pages.

Dawson, Maree. “Halting the ‘Sad Degenerationist Parade': Medical Concerns about Heredity and Racial Degeneracy in New Zealand Psychiatry, 1853-99,” Health and History 14(1)(2012): 38-55.

Historians have focused on early twentieth-century positive eugenics in New Zealand. In this article, I argue that the response came from a tradition of concern about heredity and white racial degeneracy, which extended beyond the British Empire. This article focuses on concerns about heredity at the Auckland Mental Hospital between 1850 and 1899, and contextualises these concerns in New Zealand mental hospital statistics from the late–nineteenth century. This article also considers Australasian, British, North and South American medical and immigration legislation history, and contrasts this with the legislation and medical discourses which formed part of a fear of heredity, racial degeneracy, immigration and mental illness in New Zealand.

Hide, Louise. “Making Sense of Pain: Delusions, Syphilis, and Somatic Pain in London County Council Asylums, c. 1900,” Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century 15(2012) [open-access at http://www.19.bbk.ac.uk/index.php/19/article/view/651]

During the late nineteenth century, a high percentage of male deaths in asylums was attributed to various forms of tertiary syphilis, most notably General Paralysis of the Insane (GPI) and tabes dorsalis. It was not unusual for patients to present symptoms of both conditions, the latter of which could be agonizingly painful. Some patients also suffered from persecutory delusions, believing that electricity was running through them or that their limbs were gnawed by lions and wolves at night. Drawing on a theory advanced by a number of key alienists and pathologists of the period, I suggest that these delusions were misinterpretations of felt sensations and, as such, illusions rather than delusions. Despite the well-known problems around using these historical sources, I contend that recorded delusions in asylum case notes can be treated as narratives of pain that provide invaluable insights into patients’ subjective experiences.

McCarthy, Angela. “Connections and Divergences: Lunatic Asylums in New Zealand and the Homelands before 1910,” Health and History 14(1) (2012): 12-37.

This article argues for the blending of local, national, and transnational perspectives to explore comparative issues relating to asylum developments and provisions in New Zealand. It also aims to highlight some issues preoccupying authorities of the time and in doing so focuses on three key areas that generated comparative comment among medical officials in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: asylum provision and funding, statistics, and forms of committal. These areas were of concern due to claims that insane patients were deliberately being shipped to New Zealand: that the colony had high admission and recovery rates; and that asylums in the colony were overcrowded. The findings presented here suggest that not only were certain aspects of New Zealand’s asylum provision and population distinctive from the homelands, but there were also differences between asylums in the colony.

Vreugdenhil, Anthea. “‘Incoherent and Violent if Crossed': The Admission of Older People to the New Norfolk Lunatic Asylum in the Nineteenth Century,” Health and History 14(2)(2012): 91-111.

While many older people were admitted to lunatic asylums in nineteenth-century Australia, we know little about this group or the reasons for their admission. To address that gap, this article explores the admission of people aged sixty years and over to the New Norfolk Lunatic Asylum (Tasmania) from 1830-99, through the analysis of the asylum’s admission register. Older people comprised 328 (14 percent) of the 2,258 admissions during that period, with the majority being men. Many of the older people admitted to the asylum were single and poor, but a surprising number had families and financial means, suggesting a complexity of circumstances surrounding admission. Three case studies provide further insight into these admissions and asylum life more generally.

For a complete list of articles, click here.

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  1. Just a point of clarification. The monthly bibliographies of new publications are compiled by me, and published on H-Disability; after they appear on H-Disability, the UC-Davis Disability Studies blog reprints them.

      • Alexandra Bacopoulos-Viau
      • January 26th, 2013

      OK – thanks for the clarification, Penny!

  1. February 22nd, 2013

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