Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Sciences of the Mind: Histories of Psy and Mental Health

This seminar provides an opportunity to reflect on the way in which historians of medicine have tackled the subjects of mental illness and mental health. In turn, it uses this subject to open up reflection of the broader field of the history of medicine. Ahead of the seminar you should undertake some preliminary reading for insight on the history of what has come to be known as the ‘history of psychiatry’. Look out for changes across time in theme, interpretation, and methodological approach, as well as difference that emerges as the history of psychiatry has extended its reach beyond an Anglo-American focus. You should also watch the film ‘War Neuroses’, depicting shell-shocked British troops from the First World War, and come ready to discuss the challenges that such a source raises for the historian of psychiatry. Finally, we will discuss the challenges and opportunities as historians move from their earlier focus on the history of the asylum to the study of the period since the Second World War. The questions below are designed to help your focus in the reading and will guide our discussion in the seminar. Feel free to dip into the further reading according to your interests.


To what extent is the history of mental illness an appropriate subject for the history of medicine and what is its particular value?

What questions for the history of psychiatry emerge from viewing the film War Neuroses?

Methodologically, what are the main challenges for historians of psychiatry and how can these be resolved?

Is the history of psychiatry the same thing as the history of mental health and are these appropriate labels?

Do recent developments in our experience and thinking about mental health raise new questions for historians?

How does a broader international perspective challenge our understanding of British and Western psychiatry?


Core Reading/Viewing

Volker Hess and Benoit Majerus, ‘Writing the History of Psychiatry in the 20th Century’, History of Psychiatry, 22 (2011), 139-45.

War Neuroses (1917):

Edgar Jones, 'War Neuroses and Arthur Hurst: A Pioneering Medical Film about the Treatment of Battle Casualties', Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 67 (2012), 345-73.

Barbara Taylor, 'The Demise of the Asylum in Late-Twentieth-Century Britain: A Personal History', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 21 (2011), 193-215.

John Turner et al, 'The History of Mental Health Services in Modern England: Practitioner Memories and the Direction of Future Research', History of Medicine, 59 (2015), 599-624.


Further Reading

i) Historiography

Andrew Scull, ‘Psychiatry and its Historians’, History of Psychiatry, 2 (1991), 239-50.

Roy Porter, ‘The History of Psychiatry in Britain’, History of Psychiatry, 2 (1991), 271-9.

Mark Micale and Roy Porter (eds), Discovering the History of Psychiatry (1994).

Andrew Scull, Essays on the History of Psychiatry (2006).

ii) Overviews

Greg Eghigian (ed.), The Routledge History of Madness and Mental Health (2017).

Roy Porter, Madness: A Brief History

Andrew Scull, Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine (2015).

Edward Shorter, A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac (1997).

iii) Britain

Pamela Dale and Joseph Melling (eds), Mental Illness and Learning Disability since 1850 (2006).

Claire Hilton, Improving Psychiatric Care for Older People: Barbara Robb's Campaign, 1965-1975 (2017).

Vicky Long, Destigmatising Mental Illness? Professional Politics and Public Education in Britain, 1870-1970 (2015).

Tracey Loughran, Shell Shock and Medical Culture in First World War Britain (2017).

Akihito Suzuki, Madness at Home: The Psychiatrist, the Patient and the Family in England, 1820-1860 (2006).

Jonathan Toms, Mental Hygiene and Psychiatry in Modern Britain (2013).

Oisin Wall, The British Anti-Psychiatrists: From Institutional Psychiatry to the Counter Culture, 1960-1971 (2018).

Jennifer Wallis, Investigating the Body in the Victorian Asylum: Doctors, Patients and Practices (2017).

iv) International Perspectives

David Cantor and Ed Ramsden (eds), Stress, Shock and Adaptation in the 20th Century (2014).

Howard Chiang, Psychiatry and Chinese History (2014).

Ian Dowbiggin Keeping America Sane: Psychiatry and Eugenics in the US and Canada, 1880-1940

Erika Dyck, Psychedelic Psychiatry: LSD From Clinic to Campus (2008).

Claire Edington, Beyond the Asylum: Mental Illness in French Colonial Vietnam (2019).

Waltraud Ernst, Colonialism and Transnational Psychiatry: The Development of an Indian Mental Hospital in British India, c. 1925-1940 (2013).

Waltraud Ernst (ed.), Work, Psychiatry and Society, c. 1750-2015 (2016).

Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilisation: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason.

Gerald Grob, Mental Illness and American Society, 1875-1940

Matthew Heaton, Black Skin, White Coats: Nigerian Psychiatrists, Decolonization and the Globalization of Psychiatry (2013).

Richard Keller, Colonial Madness: Psychiatry in French North Africa (2007).

Despo Kritsotaki, Vicky Long and Matthew Smith (eds), Deinstitutionalization and After: Post-War Psychiatry in the Western World (2016).

Roy Porter and David Wright (eds), The Confinement of the Insane: International Perspectives 1800-1965 (2003).

Yolana Pringle, Psychiatry and Decolonisation in Uganda (2019).