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Madness and Society from Bedlam to the Present (HI383): Course Details


This final-year (30 CATS) undergraduate module will utilise secondary literature and a selection of primary (including online) sources to explore the relationship between madness and society from the 18th century to the present day. A major focus of the module will be the rise of institutional approaches to the treatment of mental disorder from 18th-century ‘mad-houses’ to asylums governed according to the dictates of moral management, and then towards the end of the 19th century vast establishments ‘silted’ up with ‘chronic’ long-term patients.

The module is largely centred on British sources, but includes material on North America, France, and colonial settings, and there is a great deal of flexibility in the choice of essay topics in terms of country or region.

We will seek to understand lay and medical responses to mental disorder, based on scientific, cultural, intellectual and popular ideas and influences. One session will be devoted to the patient’s view, but throughout the module we will attempt to be sensitive to the position and response of patients (and their families) to the label of insanity. We will also explore the apparently concomitant rise of psychiatry, as well as the responses of psychiatry’s opponents. We will focus on debates about the possibilities of offering care and treatment outside an asylum context and the shift to ‘care in the community’ with its mixed outcomes at the end of the 20th century. Different approaches to the classification of insanity will be explored, alongside treatment regimes, changes in definitions, explanations and depictions of madness, as expressed in psychiatric texts, case notes, asylum archives, legal records, the reports of reformers and Lunacy Commissioners, novels, art, photography, film and patient narratives. We will seek to understand the economics of incarceration and care, the input of policy makers, and the role of religion, class, gender, race and ethnicity, family and community in defining insanity and its treatment.

The module will be taught through two-hourly seminars, which you must attend, and through assigned reading, which I expect you to read. You will be asked to make short presentations at some seminars, or to focus on particular items on the reading list. I may introduce additional documentary texts as the course proceeds, and these will be pre-circulated or scanned.
The seminars are organised thematically and chronologically - but there is a good deal of overlap between them - and gradually you will build your knowledge and recognise these interconnections. We cover a good deal of material and don't worry about assimilating everything immediately - your knowledge will build as we move through the module topics. Also think hard about what you want to learn and discover, following your own interests and questions (though at the same time ensuring that you engage with all aspects of the module!).

There will a major emphasis on exploring a range of primary sources - particularly online materials - especially in Term 1. Each week you will be introduced to a new source or set of sources, and I will ask you to devote some time to exploring these, alongside our analysis of particular source materials and documents in seminars.



Teaching Times and Rooms: Thursdays 12.00-14.00 (Chancellors 1, Rootes) and 15.00-17.00 (JX2.03, Junction, old Sports Centre) (face to face meetings are scheduled for weeks 2, 4, 8 and 10). Online teaching via Teams at the same times in Weeks 3, 5, 7, 9).


My office hours, via Teams: Term 1, Tuesdays, 14.00-15.00, and I will also be available after the seminars, Thursdays 17.00-18.00. Email ahead please to set up an appointment. My email is:


For more information on seminars and learning outcomes click here.
For more information on assessment click here.