This is another installment in our series on university and college courses dealing with the history of madness, mental illness, and psychiatry.
Geoffrey Reaume is Associate Professor in the Critical Disability Studies graduate program at York University, Toronto, where he has taught since 2004. He has written two books: Remembrance of Patients Past: Patient Life at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane, 1870-1940 (Oxford University Press Canada, 2000; re-issued, University of Toronto Press, 2009, 2010); and Lyndhurst: Canada’s First Rehabilitation Centre for People with Spinal Cord Injuries, 1945-1998 (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007). Reaume is a co-founder of the Psychiatric Survivor Archives, Toronto (founded 2001), has given over 80 history tours of the patient built nineteenth century Toronto Asylum boundary walls at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health based on research from “Remembrance of Patients Past” and introduced and has taught Mad People’s History at all three universities in Toronto.
The purpose of Mad People’s history is to understand the history of madness from the perspectives of people who have lived this past. Its purpose is also to engage this history with students who have or are currently experiencing madness, either themselves or in relation to relatives and friends. In particular the course is intended to provide an alternative to the medical model perspectives which have dominated the history of psychiatry. The use of the term “Mad People” in the title is intended to ensure it is about the people without whom this history would not exist. It is also intended to ensure that the course is not considered medical model in approach, though people with medical model perspectives are included along with the entire range of perspectives from anti-psychiatry to pro-psychiatry and views that are in between these perspectives.
Generally, the course provides a historical perspective that is highly critical of the medical model for its dominance in modern psychiatry and instead seeks to include broader perspectives that are inclusive of perspectives that interpret madness from wider social influences, such as the impact of poverty, gender, class, race, disability and sexual orientation. The course also seeks to include perspectives that are not only about “famous” mad people but include more sources from people who are less well known so that it is not a “great mad people’s” history course, but rather one which is more broadly representative of the vast majority of unknown mad people. Methodological issues about not being able to access the perspectives of the poorest mad people, who left no writings given their lack of resources and absence of educational opportunities in so many cases, are also discussed to appreciate the limits in understanding this past. The silences in Mad People’s History are thus as important to understand as what we discuss in this course. Finally, connections between past and present are stressed throughout the course to provide context for current developments while appreciating the contributions and experiences of mad people throughout the ages.