Symposium: Madness in Civilization. Current research into the history of psychiatry in the Low Countries (2 June 2017, Amsterdam)


On the second of June 2017 there is a symposium about the current research in the history of psychiatry in the Low Countries. The keynote speaker is prof. dr. Andrew Scull. Below you find the abstract of the symposium and an overview of the program. To register you can send an email to:


The loss of the capacity for rational thought, a sense of alienation from the world, overwhelming emotional turmoil, feelings of inexplicable sorrow and despair that people can get: they are all part of our universal human experience.

Important theme in artistic expression

But how people deal with it is both determined by social and cultural conventions and hence, by the civilization they live in. Dealing with ‘madness’ therefore varies in different places and periods. Today psychological problems are usually (but not always) evaluated through a medical-psychiatric scope, but people also tried to indicate madness by linking it to religious and supernatural experience, or treated them based on psychological insights. Moreover, the struggle with madness has been and still is an important theme in artistic expressions in literature, theater, film and art.

This symposium aims to evaluate this history of madness thus far in the Netherlands, paying attention to both current researches as well as to the history of this fascinating specialism. Focusing on ongoing research in the field, this symposium will demonstrate how the history of madness has evolved and reflects on several developments such as interdisciplinary crossovers and new approaches. Showcasing that the history of madness can be used not both by medical historians and a wider group of researchers to answer questions about social, cultural and political developments in all civilizations.


  • 9.30 – 10.00
    Registration & coffee
  • 10.00 – 10.15
    Welcome by prof. dr. Liz Buettner, director of the Amsterdam Institute of Historical Studies
  • 10.15 – 11.00
    Interview Gemma Blok with prof. dr. Andrew Scull (UC San Diego) & prof. dr. Joost Vijselaar (UU) about the historiography of psychiatry
  • 11.00 – 11.30
    Coffee/tea break
  • 11.30 – 12.00
    Martje aan de Kerk, (MA, UvA) ‘Managing one’s own mind. Patient agency and madness in the Netherlands during the 18th century’
  • 12.00 – 12.30
    Dr. Benoit Majerus, (Associate Professor University of Luxembourgh) ‘Hunger and death in Belgian asylums during World War One.
  • 12.30 – 13.30
    Lunch break
  • 13.30  – 14.00
    Mr. dr. Lydia Dalhuisen, (UU) ‘Pyromania and the court: pathological firesetting and criminal responsibility (1800-1950)’
  • 14.00 – 14.30
    Ellen Nieboer (MA, RU), ‘Eastern European migrants and the category of insanity in the United States and the Netherlands, 1909-1913’
  • 14.30 – 15.00
    Prof. dr. Patricia Pisters, (UvA) ‘Madness, cinema and psychopathologies of media culture’
  • 15.00 – 15.30
    Coffee/tea break
  • 15.30 – 16.30
    Keynote lecture by prof. dr. Andrew Scull
  • 16.30 – 17.00
    Closing remarks by prof. dr. Frank Huisman (UU)
  • 17.15 – 18.15
    Drinks reception
  • 18.30
    Speakers diner

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