CfP: The ‘Madwoman’ and the Institution (Leicester, April 2020)

This conference aims to reconfigure our understanding of the ‘madwoman’ in England’s long nineteenth century, asking key questions about the diagnosis, treatment, care and representation of women perceived as ‘insane’.

This period saw the institutionalization of large swathes of the population, including those considered mentally ill. Simultaneously, medical advancements and increased interest in mental illness saw a specific focus on conditions often typified as ‘female’, with disorders attributed to their reproductive organs and bodies. Places of treatment and care – such as public asylums, private madhouses, workhouses or prisons – were typically patriarchal institutions, run by males, with women diagnosed and treated by male doctors. As a result, procuring information about the female experience has proved difficult.

Addressing these core developments in the history of medicine and psychiatry, this conference interrogates the female experience of incarceration, often presented as a way of dealing with ‘difficult’ women. Keeping the methodological challenges of uncovering the incarcerated female voice in mind, papers are invited from a range of critical frameworks and disciplines. The event will provide a forum in which researchers can share findings in order to deepen our understanding of women and madness. We invite proposals for 20-minute papers; some guiding research topics might include:

  • Deviance, disorder and immorality
  • Female agency within the asylum
  • Madness and race/class
  • Women and the built environment
  • ‘Feminization of madness’ and understandings of mental illness
  • Cultural representations of madwomen
  • Social and familial conditions of institutionalization
  • Female versus male experiences of the institution
  • The identity of the ‘madwoman’

The conference will be keen to look at a range of experiences in a variety of institutions, and will encourage presentations from scholars who use a diverse plethora of sources.


Please send a 250-word abstract and a short bio of no more than a paragraph to by the end of 17 January 2020.

There are five bursaries available for students and early-career researchers who are members of the Society of the Social History of Medicine. For details about how to apply for a bursary please see the SSHM website:

This conference has kindly been funded by the Society for the Social History of Medicine, and the Social History Society. Thanks go to both organisations.

Follow the event on Twitter: @TMATIConf2020 #MWC20

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