New book: “Colonialism and Transnational Psychiatry: The Development of an Indian Mental Hospital in British India, c. 1925–1940” (Waltraud Ernst)


Colonialism and Transnational Psychiatry

The Development of an Indian Mental Hospital in British India, c. 1925–1940

Waltraud Ernst

The first detailed and comprehensive historical assessment of South Asian psychiatry in the twentieth century, breaking new ground on questions of globalisation and medicine in colonial India.


Anthem Press


ISBN 9780857280190

October 2013

294 pages

£60.00  /  $99.00

This is the first comprehensive case study of an Indian mental hospital. It focuses on the largest psychiatric institution in south Asia prior to Indian independence and assesses the demographics of its patient population, death and illness statistics, diagnostic categories and medical treatments. Earlier work has examined the role of British psychiatry within the context of nineteenth-century colonial expansion. This study breaks new ground by exploring how the changing imperial order during the early twentieth century, with a particular focus on the ‘Indianisation’ of the medical services, affected institutional trends. These local developments are set within the wider purview of transnational networks. Themes covered include gender, culture and race, and changing medical theories, conceptualisations and plural clinical practices within the context of medical standardisation. The limitations of institution-based data and statistical analysis and the pitfalls of post-hoc assessment and comparison of diagnostic categories and classifications are explored. The book is based on a range of original sources, including hospital reports, medical journals and textbooks, and official and private correspondence. It is relevant to historians of colonial and western psychiatry, comparative and transnational history, as well as social historians of south Asia more generally.



 ‘Ernst paints a fascinating picture of a mental hospital in India where doctors and patients struggle with the problems and paradoxes of modernity during an era of dramatic political change and medical innovation on a global scale.’ 

—Joseph Alter, Pittsburgh University

‘A very important and original contribution to the growing literature on psychiatry and colonialism, notable for its tight focus on a single mental hospital for Indians rather than the imperial ruling class.’ —Andrew Scull, University of California, San Diego

‘An in-depth account wherein individual and institutional histories coalesce, a work of honest scholarship which will be useful for medical historians, sociologists and lay readers alike.’ 

—Deepak Kumar, Jawaharlal Nehru University



Chapter 1 | Indianisation and its Discontents

–  Towards Indianisation

–  Structural Inequities

–  Medical Politics and European Racial Prejudice

–  The Medical Market and Indian Competition

–  Professional Discrimination and Historiographic Marginalisation

–  Professional Closure and the Pathologisation of a Successful  Community

–  The Decline of the ‘Good Parsi’

–  Collaborators, Competitors and Ambivalence

–  Indianisation and Histories of Medicine

–  Subalterns

Chapter 2 | The Patients: The Demographics of Gender and Age, Locality, Occupation, Caste and Religion

–  Gender Confined

–  ‘Criminal Lunatics’

–  Intellectual Disability and Patients’ Ages

–  Occupational Background and Caste

–  Religion

Chapter 3 | Institutional Trends and Standardisation: Deaths, Diseases and Cures

–  Mortality

–  Death and Illness by Gender

–  Causes of Death

–  Towards Standardisation

–  Mortality and Morbidity

–  Disease Prevalence

–  Suicide, Escapes and Patients’ Freedom of Movement

–  Cures

Chapter 4 | Classifications, Types of Disorder and Aetiology

–  Standardisation and Variation of Classifications

–  Ruptures and Continuities

–  Male and Female Maladies?

–  Aetiology – ‘the outstanding problem of psychiatry’

Chapter 5 | Treatments

–  Indigenous Herbs

–  ‘Modern’ Drugs

–  Wonder Cures and ‘Disappointing’ and ‘Indifferent’ Results

–  The Shock Therapies

–  Justifying the Need to Shock and Sedate

– Psychoanalysis

– Western and Indian Tubs: Hydrotherapy

– Dutt’s Bratachari

– Feasts and Religious Therapy

–  Work and Occupational Therapy

–  Diet

–  Sports and Entertainments


About the Author

Waltraud Ernst is Professor in the History of Medicine in the Department of History, Philosophy and Religion at Oxford Brookes University, UK.

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