Syllabus: Micale, Four Courses on the History of Madness

This is another installment in our series on university and college courses dealing with the history of madness, mental illness, and psychiatry.

Mark S. Micale is Professor of History at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign where he regularly teaches courses in modern European intellectual history and the history of science and medicine.

History 498 is a course/seminar that in various versions I have taught many times over the past 15 years to undergraduate audiences at Yale, Manchester, and now the University of Illinois.  As you can see, it centers chronologically on the period I know most about–the long nineteenth century, from Pinel to World War One, or from the moral treatment to shell shock.  I designed it to introduce students to some of the major episodes, figures, and texts in psychiatric history during this formative 120 year period, as well as to numerous interpretative, cultural, and ideological issues about psychiatry and medicine at present.  It combines European and American topics and alternates between readings of primary texts (medical-authored readings, by Pinel, Esquirol, Crichton-Brown, Beard, Krafft-Ebing, Freud, etc.) and the best secondary scholarship.  In one version of the course, I include weeks on phrenology and on Dorothea Dix.   I also assign some poetry (by mad persons) and a novel, namely Pat Brown’s Regeneration.

The weekly film component in this course tends to be very successful with students, if you can convince them to commit to an additional evening class. From a proverbial embrassment of riches, I have tried to select movies that explore the historical theme of the week’s readings, sometimes themselves in historical settings and at other times in later, including present-day, settings.  I’ve considered teaching a specialized seminar on “Psychiatry and the Cinema,” but think it would probably be too much fun to teach.

The course syllabus subtitled “”Freud to Prozac” is intended as a sequel to this first course.  I have only actually taught it once and that was as a small independent tutorial.  Hence, it needs refinement.  Again, it would be offered on an upper-class college level.

History 396 is the syllabus for a very unique experience.  Last spring semester, 2010, I taught this course through the Education Justice Program of the University of Illinois at the nearby Danville Correctional Facility.  That is, I taught it to 15 student-prisoners at a medium-security prison, who qualified due to their previous educational records and who received course credit toward a degree for it.  EJP is a new and remarkable initiative in Illinois, and several other states, to provide college courses during incarceration.  My students were all men, ranging in age from 24 to 62.  All of them were African-American or Hispanic.

Needless to say, our class discussions differed greatly from those with students who were overwhelmingly white, middle-class and free.  They were in fact quite illuminating, for me as instructor. The experience changed in select ways how I think about and teach psychiatric history.  My audience, however, explains why this version of psychiatric history includes a section on “contemporary issues” and why it emphasizes issues of class and race.

Finally, “Classics in the History of European Psychiatry” is just what is says.  I co-taught this readings seminar with Renate Hauser, a Jungian analyst and Krafft-Ebing scholar from German-speaking Switzeland, at the Wellcome Institute in the late 1980s.  I was in London on a post-doctoral fellowship.  Our motivitating thought was that scholars bandy about the names of past psychiatric greats but in fact we generally are not very deeply read in their writings, except perhaps for Kraepelin and Freud and Jung.  So,as post-doc students, we designed a course that each week looked closely at some past classic, including a few “difficult” texts such as psychiatric textbooks by Feuchtersleben, Griesinger, and Meynert.  Bill Bynum and Roy Porter attended some of the sessions.  The seminar was open to the public and therefore attracted several psychiatrists (or psychiatric medical students in training) from London hospitals and medical schools (as well as a few “colorful characters” from the street).  This seminar too was most instructive.  I am so glad I had a chance to read these authors closely in a communal setting.  A course of this sort should work well in a history of medicine program allied to a school of medicine.

I have also taught more specialized and historiographically focused reading courses for graduate students, as well as graduate tutorials, including students in our M.D./Ph.D. program here.  The content tends to be determined by student interest.  One such grad course studied historiographical debates in 20th-century psychiatry (shell shock, political psychiatry, psychosurgery, etc.)  Another investigates “readings in deviance theory.”

The one other type of university course I wish to teach would be a more introductory lecture course.  The above courses are seminars directed toward upper-level undergraduates, who typically are either history majors, or pre-med majors, or have a topical interest within the history of psychiatry/medicine.  I can envision, in contrast, a survey course of lectures that would run from ancient divine madness and Egyptian brain trepaning to the present and would attract a wider liberal arts audience of students.  I hope to work up the lectures for such an offering in the future.  The subject is congenial to this type of educational treatment, with its many episodes that are fascinating, comical, and horrifying.

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