Archive for the ‘ blog ’ Category

Thumiger on Film “Seishin” (Mental) by Kazuhiro Soda


Historian of medicine Chiara Thumiger has just posted an essay on director Kazuhiro Soda’s 2008 film Seishin (Mental). As she describes it:

That of Sugano is just one of the human stories narrated by the film “Seishin” (“Mental”), by Kazuhiro Soda, an unforgettable documentary (if often hard to watch) about mental health and mental suffering in the context of a small clinical community, with its efforts and hard work, its struggles with the bureaucracy and with budgeting, and its daily routine. It is also a documentary on what it means to offer care to patients who suffer mentally, and to be a doctor; most of all, it is a touching collection of scattered pieces of human life, seen through the lenses of a handful of particular individuals. Their stories and emotions, but also their bodies, faces, expressions and physical presence – talking, working, laughing, smoking – are the real centre of the account; their individual viewpoints represent more clearly than any theoretical discussion the infinite possible meanings of ‘mentally ill’ and ‘mentally sound’ across different situations and worlds, and from one individual to the other.

You can read more by Thumiger on her blog Stories and Histories of Mental Health: Ancient World to Contemporary.

New Blog on the History of Mental Health (Chiara Thumiger)


Historian of medicine Chiara Thumiger has begun a new blog examining the stories and histories of mental health from the ancient world to contemporary times. She is the author of numerous articles on the history of madness in the ancient world, and her new monograph – a study of mental life and mental disorders in fifth- and early fourth-century medical thought – will soon be published by Cambridge University Press.

Dr. Thumiger is presently Research Fellow at Warwick University, where she holds a Wellcome Trust grant in Medical Humanities and is collaborating with experts in the Department of Classics in ancient Greek and Arabic medicine.

The blog promises to offer a number of resources for historians of madness and mental health. One especially novel example – an ancient medical diseases symptom checker. Just fill out an assessment test, and find out how an ancient physician might diagnose your patient.

New network on Madness Studies

Screenshot from 2015-05-05 19:16:13 At the University of Oulu, Finland, a network to coordinate research in the Nordic countries on Madness Studies has been created recently. This group is now keen on expanding the network beyond this rather small geographical area.

The main purpose of Madness Studies is to provide a useful platform for communication, cooperation and collaboration across national borders and disciplinary boundaries. At this early stage, the primary goal is to compile data about scholars, doctoral students and research groups involved in research activities, as well as inform about conferences, journals, books and primary sources. Potential future forms of activities include a founding of a society and organization of meetings devoted to the multidisciplinary aspects of madness.

To get more information visit their homepage.

French History of Psychiatry Portal

Screenshot from 2014-06-20 11:46:37The library Henri Ey at the psychiatric hospital Sainte-Anne in Paris has created a portal that gives access to resources linked to the history of French psychiatry. If there is certainly some work to do on a graphical level, the major databases, blogs, libraries, web-pages are now all brought together on one site.

Call for Papers: Alternative Psychiatric Narratives (London)


Call for Papers: Alternative Psychiatric Narratives

This conference will take place on the afternoon of Friday 16 May, and
day on Saturday 17 May 2014, at Birkbeck College, London, United Kingdom

Chair: Professor Joanna Bourke, Birkbeck

In recent years, historians of psychiatry have heeded Roy Porter’s call
to produce psychiatric histories from the patient’s point of view.
Studies have moved on from focusing on medical discourse to
investigating the diversity of the patient population, their varied
experiences, and their pathways to and from psychiatric institutions.
Only just beginning, however, is work which pays attention to
alternative narratives of psychiatry: individuals and accounts that have
been excluded or overlooked in the midst of this focus upon doctor and
patient. These include the experiences of those located outside formal
psychiatric spaces and relationships, from families and non-medical
staff, to activists and campaigners, as well as narratives taking
unconventional forms or found in unexpected places, offering alternative
readings of sites, spaces, or texts, or challenging the very ways in
which psychiatric narratives could or should be expressed and used.

This conference seeks to contribute to the development of these
alternative narratives of psychiatry (in the broadest sense of the term)
by exploring the voices and experiences of those involved in the
non-institutional, non-formal aspects of psychiatry, and by
investigating new ways to access all aspects of psychiatric experience,
from the early modern period to today. This will be a space to discuss
wide ranging (alternative) narratives of psychiatry, representations of
psychiatry over time, and the methods and meanings behind this work from
a range of disciplinary perspectives.

Proposals for 20 minute papers touching on any aspects of alternative
psychiatric narratives are welcomed from postgraduate and early career
researchers across the humanities and social sciences. Possible topics
might include (but are not limited to):

Alternative methodologies (such as oral history, social geography,
ethnography, and more)

Histories of familial and community care

Representations of psychiatry in literature, theatre, art, music and the

Disability theories and histories in relation to the history of
psychiatry and mental health

Reforms, campaigns, and histories of activism and the psychiatric
survivor movement

Alternative views of traditional psychiatric sites such as asylums,
hospitals, clinics

Developments, experiences and perceptions of auxiliary and support staff

Questions of space, time, culture and locality

The gendering of psychiatric spaces, diagnoses and treatments

Changing therapeutic identities over time

Race and ethnicity, and other hidden dimensions of psychiatric history

The classic sick role: its history, consequences and alternatives

Medical texts and their role in shaping psychiatric stories

The problems with psychiatric narratives: authenticity and authority,
uses and abuses

Those interested in presenting a paper should email a short proposal
(max. 300 words) to AltPsychiatricNarratives AT by Monday 3rd

For more information, visit the conference blog here.

Noll on the Satanic Ritual Abuse Panic of the 1980s

Psychologist Richard Noll has just published an article in Psychiatric Times on the Satanic ritual abuse panic of the 1980s.  As Noll points out in “When Psychiatry Battled the Devil,”In the 1980s thousands of patients insisted that they were recovering childhood memories of physical and sexual abuse during Satanic cult rituals. In addition to the red or black robes of the abusers and other paraphernalia of devil worship familiar to any horror film devotee, these memories often included the ritual sacrificial murder of children, blood-drinking, cannibalism, bestiality, and incest.”

Noll chronicles how major figures in American psychiatry and clinical psychology played a role in what today is acknowledged to have been a moral panic that damaged the reputations and led to the imprisonment of a number of innocent individuals.

Photo from: From:

“Forbidden Histories”: New blog by Andreas Sommer, Ph.D.

Andreas Sommer, historian of the human sciences and post-doctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge, has a new blog entitled “Forbidden Histories”. The blog “is primarily concerned with the functions of popular science and disciplinary history as knowledge management and tries to identify a variety of epistemologies and concerns (many of which, interestingly, have been mutually antagonistic), that have prevented mainstream historical information from entering common knowledge.”

Today, Sommer writes about “The Naturalisation of the ‘Poltergeist’“. His text deals with various figures who might be of interest to H-Madness readers, such as Carl du Prel, Charles Richet, and Eugen Bleuler (left):

An example of the historical continuity of scientific interest in unorthodox questions concerns ‘poltergeist’ phenomena, i.e. the very epitome of ‘things that go bump in the night’.

Probably coined by Martin Luther (a professed poltergeist victim) in sixteenth-century Germany, ‘Poltergeist’ means ‘rumbling spirit’. There is a vast amount of historical records of dramatic poltergeist outbreaks afflicting people from all walks of life, not infrequently resulting in interventions by state authorities, which in turn have produced some of the most detailed records. Among the bizarre but apparently robust features of alleged poltergeist phenomena over time are:

  • The centre of events is usually a specific person, often an adolescent.
  • Unexplained recurring sounds are heard, ranging from raps from within walls or furniture to deafening blows.
  • Sounds are sometimes responsive.
  • Household objects of all sizes and weights are observed to move, sometimes slowly and appearing as if carried.
  • Moved objects appear to penetrate closed windows or walls without causing damage, and they are often reported to be hot.
  • Stones are thrown from without, sometimes from a considerable distance.
  • If approaching a person, thrown objects often appear to recoil before the impact and drop to the floor.
  • Large quantities of water suddenly appear and disappear, and fires spontaneously ignite.
  • Persons are hurled out of bed, slapped or beaten as if by invisible hands, and bitten.
  • Writings and drawings appear on walls or in concealed spaces.
  • Apparitions are perceived, sometimes simultaneously by more than one witness.
  • Pets and animals panic or behave unusually.
  • In post-industrial times, disturbances correspond with malfunctions or unusual behaviour of electronic equipment.


Traditionally, poltergeists were believed to be demons, elementals, or spirits of deceased evil humans, and their activities have often been associated with witchcraft and black magic. Far from being condemned as folly or superstition, such views were held by figureheads of the Scientific Revolution, such as Francis Bacon and later Robert Boyle (pictured on the left). While Bacon submitted bills for the penalisation of witchcraft, Boyle sponsored the English edition of The Devil of Mascon, a classical French poltergeist case, for which he wrote the preface. Boyle (who investigated cases of miraculous healings, premonitions and other supposedly supernatural events) also supported colleagues at the Royal Society such as Joseph Glanvill and Henry More who compiled natural histories of poltergeist disturbances and witchcraft. Historians of science have argued that these investigations were inspired by deep worries of religious deviance (such as popular atheism, animism, hylozoism and pantheism), which were perceived to undermine regulative moral functions of Christian belief in the reward and punishment of the soul in the afterlife.

To read the entire piece, click here.

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