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Week 4: Madness and its Confinement

Lecturer: Hilary Marland


From the 18th through to the 20th century one change dominated the care and treatment of the insane: increased confinement in asylums. As part of the wider expansion of medical consumption in the 18th century, small-scale private institutions proliferated, establishing the principle of institutional care, albeit often on a small scale. In the 19th county asylums were built on an ever larger scale, eventually becoming massive ‘warehouses’ for the insane. Public asylums were driven by the urge to reform conditions and approaches to treating mental disorder, to cure their patients, but also can be interpreted as a response to new social and economic conditions and a reflection of hardening attitudes to ‘deviant’ forms of behaviour. This week’s seminar will examine the rise of asylums and the changing understandings of insanity that accompanied and drove their expansion.


Discussion/Essay Questions:

  1. Were private asylums merely money-making enterprises?
  2. How can we account for the movement to establish county asylums in the 19th century?
  3. ‘A convenient place to get rid of inconvenient people’. Does this reflect patient admissions to 19th-century asylums?

Required Reading:

J. Andrews, ‘The Rise of the Asylum in Britain’, in D. Brunton (ed.), Medicine Transformed: Health, Disease and Society in Europe 1800-1930 (2004), 298-329. Course Extract

R. Porter, Mind-Forg'd Manacles: A History of Madness in England from the Restoration to the Regency (1987), ch. 3. e-book


Further Reading:

R. Adair, B. Forsythe and J. Melling, ‘A Danger to the Public? Disposing of Pauper Lunatics in Late-Victorian and Edwardian England: Plympton St Mary Union and the Devon County Asylum, 1867-1914’, Medical History, 42 (1998), 1-25. e-journal

P. Bartlett, The Poor Law of Lunacy: The Administration of Pauper Lunatics in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England (1999).

C. Cox, H. Marland and S. York, ‘Emaciated, Exhausted and Excited: The Bodies and Minds of the Irish in Nineteenth-Century Lancashire Asylums’, Journal of Social History, 46 (2012), 500-24. e-journal

A. McCarthy, ‘Ethnicity, Migration and the Lunatic Asylum in Early Twentieth-Century Auckland, New Zealand', Social History of Medicine, 21 (2008), 47-65. e-journal

A. McCarthy and C. Coleborne (eds), Migration, Ethnicity, and Mental Health: International Perspectives, 1840-2010 (New York: Routledge, 2012). e-book

J. Melling and B. Forsythe (eds), Insanity, Institutions and Society, 1800-1914 (1999). e-book

J. Melling, B. Forsythe and R. Adair, ‘Families, Communities and the Legal Regulation of Lunacy in Victorian England: Assessments of Crime, Violence and Welfare in Admissions to the Devon Asylum, 1845-1914’, in P. Bartlett and D. Wright (eds), Outside the Walls of the Asylum: The History of Care in the Community 1750-2000 (1999), 153-80.

E. Murphy, ‘The Lunacy Commissioners and the East London Guardians, 1845-1867’, Medical History, 46 (2002), 495-524. e-journal

W. Ll. Parry-Jones, The Trade in Lunacy: A Study of Private Madhouses in England in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (1972), esp. ch. 2. e-book

R. Porter, ‘Madness and its Institutions’, in A. Wear (ed.), Medicine in Society: Historical Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 277-301. e-book

A. Scull, Museums of Madness: The Social Organization of Insanity in 19th Century England (1979).

A. Scull, The Most Solitary of Afflictions: Madness and Society in Britain, 1700-1900 (1993).

A. Scull, The Insanity of Place, the Place of Insanity: Essays on the History of Psychiatry (2006). e-book

A. Scull, ‘Museums of Madness Revisited’, Social History of Medicine, 6 (1993), 3-23. e-journal

L.D. Smith, 'Cure, Comfort and Safe Custody': Public Lunatic Asylums in Early Nineteenth-Century England (1999).

L. Smith, 'Caribbean Bedlam: The Development of the Lunatic Asylum System in Britain's West Indian Colonies, 1838-1914', The Journal of Caribbean History, 44 (2010), 1-47.

L. Smith, ‘”To Cure those Afflicted with the Disease of Insanity”: Thomas Bakewell and Spring Vale Asylum’, History of Psychiatry, 4 (1993), 107-27. e-journal

J. Walton, ‘The Treatment of Pauper Lunatics in Victorian England: The Case of Lancaster Asylum, 1816-70’, in A. Scull (ed.), Madhouses, Mad-Doctors, and Madmen: The Social History of Psychiatry in the Victorian Era (1981), 166-97.

D. Wright, ‘The Certification of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century England and Wales’, History of Psychiatry, 9 (1998), 267-90. e-journal

You might also want to view a short play, 'Trade in Lunacy', produced by Hilary Marland in conjunction with Talking Birds Theatre Company, together with a collection of brief articles on the private asylum system: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/history/chm/outreach/trade_in_lunacy/