Archive for December, 2014

Dissertations – Surviving Success, Reconciling Resilience

Demolition of King’s College Residence, 1886. This figure illustrates the ‘original’ building of what is now referred to as the University Toronto. The building was completed in 1845 and demolished in 1886 following a period as an asylum. (University of Toronto Archives 2001-77-11MS)

Demolition of King’s College Residence, 1886. (University of Toronto Archives 2001-77-11MS) This figure illustrates the ‘original’ building of what is now referred to as the University Toronto. The building was completed in 1845 and demolished in 1886 following a period as an asylum.

Katie Aubrecht: Surviving Success, Reconciling Resilience: A Critical Analysis of the Appearance of Student ‘Mental Life’ at one Canadian University

This dissertation addresses the university student as a figure of mental health and illness. Drawing on the methods and theories of disability studies, interpretive sociology, critical, feminist and queer theory, as well as hermeneutically oriented phenomenology, my work explores the social production of this student figure or type – variously depicted as ‘ invisible’, ‘maladjusted’, ‘stressed’, ‘difficult’, sensitive’, ‘resilient’, ‘narcissistic’, and extraordinarily ‘ordinary’. This figure is addressed as a means of revealing contradictory understandings of the relationship between success and survival, as this relationship appears in the ordinary daily life of the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The social and historical significance of the contemporary University’s Student Life Programs and Services is analyzed with a view to reveal the Western cultural values and practices which organize consciousness of success as a necessary condition of contemporary existence. Special attention is paid to the cultural production of knowledge concerning university student ‘mental life’, the appearance of which is located at the interstices of colonialism, global health policy, institutional ‘best practices’, cultural mores and folkways, and embodied experiences. I dwell with this appearance as an occasion to engage the materiality of Western mythologies of resilience, and with them the meaning of human agency under neoliberal governance. This engagement examines the productive power of the disciplinary and institutionalized ‘language of mental illness’ through a genealogy of the University of Toronto, a textual analyses of the University’s Student Life Programs and Services literature, and a discursive analysis of open-ended interviews with student services representatives which seeks both to understand and transgress conventional interpretations of the structure of Student Life. I demonstrate how University presentations of student bodies, minds and senses perceived to be lacking in ‘ordinary order’, can be reconceived as sites to reflect on the paramount presence of psychiatric knowledge in interpretations and responses to embodied difference within the university setting. Overall, this dissertation seeks to disrupt unexamined relations to the meaning of student types; and in the process, display how normative relations to the student as a figure of mental health and illness needs is currently and historically organized and socially achieved.

Dr. Katie Aubrecht graduated in November 2012 and is the current President of the Canadian Disability Studies Association, Associate Editor (Forums) of Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal, Canadian Institutes of Health Research Postdoctoral Fellow and Assistant Professor with the Department of Sociology at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. Her current research examines the discursive construction of dementia and the politics of person-centred residential dementia care.

New Issue of Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

1.coverThe latest issue of Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences contains at least one article that interests the readers of h-madness directly.

Investigating “Mass Hysteria” in Early Postcolonial Uganda: Benjamin H. Kagwa, East African Psychiatry, and the Gisu by Yolana Pringle



In the early 1960s, medical officers and administrators began to receive reports of what was being described as “mass madness” and “mass hysteria” in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and Uganda. Each epidemic reportedly affected between three hundred and six hundred people and, coming in the wake of independence from colonial rule, caused considerable concern. One of the practitioners sent to investigate was Benjamin H. Kagwa, a Ugandan-born psychiatrist whose report represents the first investigation by an African psychiatrist in East Africa. This article uses Kagwa’s investigation to explore some of the difficulties facing East Africa’s first generation of psychiatrists as they took over responsibility for psychiatry. During this period, psychiatrists worked in an intellectual climate that was both attempting to deal with the legacy of colonial racism, and which placed faith in African psychiatrists to reveal more culturally sensitive insights into African psychopathology. The epidemics were the first major challenge for psychiatrists such as Kagwa precisely because they appeared to confirm what colonial psychiatrists had been warning for years—that westernization would eventually result in mass mental instability. As this article argues, however, Kagwa was never fully able to free himself from the practices and assumptions that had pervaded his discipline under colonial rule. His analysis of the epidemics as a “mental conflict” fit into a much longer tradition of psychiatry in East Africa, and stood starkly against the explanations of the local community.

Book announcement – Schreiben am Rand. Die ‚kantonale Irrenanstalt Waldau‘ und ihre Narrative (1895-1936)



Martina Wernli, a Research Fellow at the University of Würzbuerg, just publishes a book on the narratives produced inside a Swiss asylum in the first 20th century. The blurb reads:

The book is concerned with selected texts, which were written in the Bernische kantonale Irrenanstalt Waldau (Switzerland) at the beginning of the 20th century. The study follows the questions, what was written in a certain clinic, Waldau, at this time, how someone would write there, who writes and why they write and what about. The thesis analyses various types of texts concerning their form and content. This assembly of texts interlaces and shows the clinic as a place of writing.

The presentation of this specific place of writing concentrates on the time between 1895 and 1936 because of the presence of well-known patients: in 1895, Adolf Wölfli (1864–1930) is brought to Waldau for an examination, in 1936, Friedrich Glauser (1896–1938) is allowed to leave the mental institution and between 1929 and 1933, Robert Walser (1878–1956) stays interned there.

After theoretically exploring the alliance between writing an place, the thesis persists of two main parts: In the first, the history of the clinic and its protagonists are focused, whereas the second part is dealing with texts both well-known and nameless patients as well as with medical records. The thesis shows, how in writing as a performative act, the clinic becomes visible and legible and how through this process the requirements of the clinic are built, but also addressed and it shows how these requirements form the condition of future writing in the setting of the closed clinic.

Call for thesis abstracts

Antonio Martínez Anaya: Imposición del birrete a un nuevo Doctor. (Reproduction of a lost painting from the mid-17th century, oil on canvas, residing at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

Antonio Martínez Anaya: Imposición del birrete a un nuevo Doctor. (Reproduction of a lost painting from the mid-17th century, oil on canvas, Universidad Complutense de Madrid)


In order to keep up with the latest research, h-madness is looking to expand its category “Dissertations”. The category will now feature abstracts of current dissertations in the history of psychiatry, psychology, mental health and mental illness.

Are you currently writing a dissertation on the history of psychiatry? We want to know all about it! Send us your thesis abstract (max. 500 words) and a matching illustration and we will be happy to publish it on this blog. Your abstract should be sent to: marina.lienhard [at] This is an ongoing call: you can send us your abstract anytime.

Book announcement: Insanity and the Lunatic Asylum in the Nineteenth Century

insanity and the lunatic asylum_frontThe idea of the asylum as a threat became fixed in the Victorian age. However, while patients endured terrible abuses at the hands of those working there it was also the site of advancements in medical treatment and care. Looking at asylums of the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and the United States, contributors to this collection present essays from the perspective of those who were sent there and of the place itself – its architecture, funding and purpose. Both fictional and historical sources are used to present a picture of the asylum both as it was and as it was perceived in the popular imagination.

Insanity and the Lunatic Asylum in the Nineteenth Century, edited by Thomas Knowles and Serena Trowbridge

Pickering & Chatto; HB ISBN: 9781848934528, December 2014, 256 pages, £60/$99; eBook: £24 (incl. VAT)

This title forms part of Pickering & Chatto’s series, Perspectives in Economic and Social History.


Introduction – Serena Trowbridge and Thomas Knowles
Part I: Literary
1 ‘Horrible Dens of Deception’: Thomas Bakewell, Thomas Mulock and Anti-Asylum Sentiments, c.1815–58 – Rebecca Wynter
2 ‘This Most Noble of Disorders’: Matilda Betham on the Reformation of the Madhouse – Elaine Bailey
3 The Legacy of Victorian Asylums in the Landscape of Contemporary British Literature – Thomas Knowles

Part II: Quantitative
4 Building a Lunatic Asylum: ‘A Question of Beer, Milk and the Irish’ – Bernard Melling
5 ‘Just Can’t Work Them Hard Enough’: A Historical Bioarcheological Study of the Inmate Experience at the Oneida County Asylum – Shawn Phillips
6 ‘Always Remember that you are in your Senses’: From Keeper to Attendant to Nurse – Claire Chatterton
7 ‘Atrophied’, ‘Engorged’, ‘Debauched’: Muscle Wastage, Degenerate Mass and Moral Worth in the General Paralytic Patient – Jennifer Wallis

Part III: Cultural
8 ‘Attitudes Passionelles’: The Pornographic Spaces of the Salpêtriére – Amanda Finelli
9 ‘The Poison that Upsets my Reason’: Men, Madness and Drunkenness in the Victorian Period – Kostas Makras
10 ‘Madness and masculinity’: Male Patients in London Asylums and Victorian Culture – Helen Goodman
11 ‘Straitjacket’: A Confined History – Will Wiles

To read the introduction, click here.

To view the index, click here.

About the Editors:

Thomas Knowles is based at the School of English, Nottingham Trent University. His research interests are varied and include Romanticism, Surrealism, Critical Theory, Victorian Literature, Science Fiction, the History of Madness and Psychiatry, Imperialism, Empire and Postcolonial Studies.

Serena Trowbridge is based in the School of English, Birmingham City University. Her research interests include nineteenth-century poetry, women’s history and writing, Gothic literature, nineteenth-century Anglican theology, children’s literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and Pre-Raphaelitism in art and literature.

New Issue of Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

A collection of straitjackets on Pinterest

A collection of straitjackets on Pinterest

The latest issue of Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry is dedicated to The Practice of Constraint in Psychiatry: Emergent Forms of Care and Control. It contains at least one article that interests the readers of h-madness directly.

“Learning Constraint. Exploring Nurses’ Narratives of Psychiatric Work in the Early Years of French Community Psychiatry” by Nicolas Henckes

This article uses narrative analysis to understand how mental health professionals working in a pilot experiment in community psychiatry in France between 1960 and 1980 made sense of their work experiences. Based on a collection of essays written by these professionals as part of their training as well as on other archival materials, the article explores writing practices in post-war French psychiatry as ways of constructing and negotiating moral commitments to work. The first three sections of the article give some background on mental health nursing in France in the immediate post-war period. The subsequent three sections examine how the professionals elaborated on their experiences in their writings, focusing on three different levels: first, the narrative voice used in the essays; second, the learning processes described by trainees; and finally, the ways in which they negotiated discursively the requirement to do emotionally well at work.

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