History of Psychiatry in Britain and Ireland since 1500 – Part Two

Blog written by Professor Rab Houston

trosse

George Trosse, Photo attrib. YOONIQ, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

I guess most of you already know about the series of podcasts I have put out over the last year, exploring the rich and sometimes curious History of Psychiatry in Britain and Ireland since 1500. There are 44 episodes that range from sex to suicide, asylums to alienists, doctors to devils. I wrote the ‘script’ for these and I delivered them as a monologue in my soft Scottish voice.

The second series of podcasts that followed and is currently airing is called The Voice of the Mad‘ and looks at mental illness in Britain from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. It has a dual format. The basis of what I say in my spoken contribution is a contextualisation of the writings of people long dead, who either knew they were mentally disordered or who wrote to refute the notion. I interpret their words and explain the cultural context that created them: law, society, medicine, religion, and so on. That part is exactly the same as series one.

The other part is an original historical source, either written or printed. These words are, if you like, a bit like ‘gobbets’: extracts from documents that are the core of final year special subjects across the School. In fact, some of the extracts are from my course ‘Madness and its social milieu in England, c.1560-1820’ (MO4904). I thought it would be a good idea not only to reproduce the words of the people I am interpreting, which you can find on the website, but also to have them spoken by people other than myself. Thus Seb Bridges, who was once in my first-year MO1007 tutorial, recruited members of Mermaids to help; Seb is the secretary of this popular student society. Members of Mermaids voiced the written words, allowing those who have visual problems (or who simply prefer to listen) the opportunity to hear the vivid and affecting (and sometimes troubling) words of people struggling to come to terms with their minds and the people around them.

You can find more information on our website and the written versions of the extracts are available on the Extracts and Readings page. You will also find links to all the podcasts and recorded extracts.

So do please read, listen, and think about those with mental problems, past and present. This is history with a living purpose.

About standrewshistory
With over forty full time members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from S cotland to Byzantium and the Americas to the Middle East and South Asia.Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching and tutorials allowing for in depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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