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Ute Oswald


I am a final-year PhD student within the Centre for the History of Medicine (CHM) and an Early Career Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study.Link opens in a new window My project is supervised by Professor Hilary Marland and generously funded by a Departmental Scholarship and an IAS stipend. My research interests lie broadly within the social and cultural history of psychiatry in nineteenth-century Britain, with a particular focus on asylums and non-pharmaceutical therapies.


My research focuses on the role of recreational, educational and religious activities in nineteenth-century British asylums, such as concerts, art, sport, reading/writing classes, divine services and plays. These formed part of the moral treatment regime which had evolved around the turn of the century in response to a new belief in the curability of insanity, focusing on kindness, an individualised relationship between doctors and patients, and patient occupation. However, the role of recreation, education and religion within this has so far been under-explored, with activities often brandished as mere tools of social control.

My project addresses the reform versus social control polarity and scrutinises the extent to which confinement, management and therapy can be aligned or consolidated through recreational activities. I will challenge the current historical narrative by analysing primary sources such as archival records, medical treatises and reports in the popular and scientific nineteenth-century press. I will also explore the interpersonal dynamics these activities engendered and investigate the adaptation of exterior and interior spaces to fit.

In exposing the impact of recreation and religion on the nineteenth-century insane, this project will contribute to the growing body of research in the field of Medical Humanities. Identifying the forerunners of art, music and drama therapy, it seeks to reshape public perceptions of institutional care and inform future policy making in mental health.



2022-2023 IAS Early Career Fellow, University of Warwick

2016-2022 PhD Student, History of Medicine, University of Warwick

2013-2015 MSt in Literature & Arts, University of Oxford (Distinction)

1998-2000 Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE FAHE), University of Wolverhampton

1997-2015 College Lecturer in German, Italian and EFL

1989-1994 MA in Classical Archaeology (2.1) and Italian Language and Literature (1st), University of Hamburg, Germany


'"Distraction from Hurtful Thoughts": Recreational Activities as Agents of Healing in Nineteenth-Century British Asylums', Medizinhistorisches Journal, 56:1/2 (2021), pp. 30-57.

‘Marketplace and Open Space: “A Box of Tricks” at the Inaugural Congress of the NNMHR’, The Polyphony: Conversations across the Medical Humanities, A Review (5 October 2017) [online].

‘International Network for The History of Hospitals: I’, Conference Report, The Gazette: Society for the Social History of Medicine, 78 (July 2017), pp. 8-10.

'"A Curious Dance Round a Curious Tree": Agency and Amusement in Victorian Asylums', VIDES 3 (Oxford, 2015), pp. 93-102.


'God, the Great Physician': Religious Activities in Nineteenth-Century British Asylums, European Association for the History of Medicine and Health (EAHMH), Leuven (Belgium), 7-10 September 2021.

'Conformity and Cure': Appropriating Social Activities in British Asylums c. 1800-1845, Biennial Conference of the Society for the Social History of Medicine, University of Liverpool, 11-13 July 2018.

'Healthful Indulgences': Recreational Objects and Spaces in the Nineteenth-Century British Asylum, 'Material Cultures of Psychiatry', International Conference at the Department of History and Ethics of Medicine at the University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendof (Germany) in cooperation with the University Luxembourg and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Ottersberg, (Deutsch/Englisch), 2-4 May 2018.

‘Das Vergnügen ist unermesslich’: Kunst und Kultur als Heilung in britischen Irrenanstalten des 19. Jahrhunderts, 'Gebessert Entlassen': Heilen in der Psychiatrischen Theorie und Praxis zwischen 1800 und 1970, Institut für Geschichte der Medizin, Universität Heidelberg, Germany, 6-7 April 2018.

'The Pleasure is Intense': Social Activities in British Asylums c. 1800-1890, Inaugural Congress of the Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research, Durham University, 14-15 September 2017.

'Re-tuning' the Mind: Art and Emotion in Nineteenth-Century British Asylums, ‘Emotion and the Arts: An Interdisciplinary History’, ISCH Annual Conference, Umea University, Sweden, 26-29 June 2017.

Art and Beauty as Therapeutic Agents in British Asylums, c.1800-1870; ‘Beauty and the Hospital', International Network for the History of Hospitals, University of Malta, 6-8 April 2017.

Art and Amusement in Victorian Asylums; ‘History Matters: An Evening of Talks', The George Marshall Medical Museum, Worcester, 4 July 2016.


2018-2019 HI153 Making of the Modern World, Associate Tutor, University of Warwick.


British Association for Victorian Studies (BAVS)

Society for the Social History of Medicine (SSHM)

Edgar Wind Society for the History of Art

International Society for Cultural History (ISCH)

European Association for the History of Medicine and Health (EAHMH)


Travel and Accommodation Bursary from the Steering Group of the Inaugural Congress of the Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research, Durham University, 14-15 September 2017.

Full Travel and Accommodation Bursary, CHM, University of Warwick, for the ISCH Annual Conference in Umea, Sweden, 26-29 June 2017.

Travel Bursary from the Society for the Social History of Medicine (SSHM) for the Conference ‘Beauty and the Hospital’, University of Malta, 6-8 April 2017.

PhD Departmental Scholarship, University of Warwick 2016-2022.

IAS Early Career Fellowship, Institute of Advanced Study, University of Warwick, 2022-2023.

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Ute Oswald






CMH Durham

Wellcome Trust