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A LATENT HISTORIOGRAPHY? THE CASE OF PSYCHIATRY IN BRITAIN, 1500–1820*

  • R. A. HOUSTON (a1)

Abstract

Both empirically and interpretively, extant histories of psychiatry reveal a vastly greater degree of difference among themselves than historical accounts of any other field. Scholarship focuses on the period after 1800 and the same is true of historiographical reviews; those of early modern British psychiatry are often brief literature studies. This article sets out in depth the development of this rich and varied branch of history since the 1950s, exploring the many different approaches that have contributed to understanding the mad and how they were treated. Social, cultural, philosophical, religious, and intellectual historians have contributed as much as historians of science and medicine to understanding an enduring topic of fascination: ‘disorders of consciousness and conduct’ and their context. Appreciating the sometimes unacknowledged lineages of the subject and the personal histories of scholars (roots and routes) makes it easier to understand the past, present, and future of the history of psychiatry. The article explores European and North American influences as well as British traditions, looking at both the main currents of historiographical change and developments particular to the history of psychiatry.

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Corresponding author

Department of Modern History, University of St Andrews, KY16 9ALrah@st-andrews.ac.uk

References

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26 Webster, ‘Historiography of medicine’, p. 29.

27 Jones, K., A history of the mental health services (London, 1972).

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29 Parry-Jones, W. L., The trade in lunacy: a study of private madhouses in England and Wales in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (London, 1971); J. A. R., and Bickford, M. E., The private lunatic asylums of the East Riding (Beverley, 1976).

30 Nicolson, M., ‘Obituary: William Llywelyn Parry-Jones (1935–1997)’, Medical History, 42 (1998), p. 100. He was not working on virgin territory. Arthur D. Morris (1889–1980), medical superintendent at St Leonard's Hospital, Shoreditch, had already published a brief study of The Hoxton madhouses (Cambridge, 1958).

31 Micale and Porter, ‘Reflections on psychiatry’, p. 7; Bromberg, W., Psychiatry between the wars, 1918–1945: a recollection (London, 1982).

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33 Similarly negative early and mid-twentieth-century histories of Bethlem Hospital remain fixed in the popular imagination in spite of abundant balancing evidence. Allderidge, P. H., ‘Bedlam: fact or fantasy’, in Bynum, , Porter, , and Shepherd, , eds., The anatomy of madness, ii, pp. 1733; Neely, C. T., Distracted subjects: madness and gender in Shakespeare and early modern culture (London, 2004), pp. 206–12. The culprit here may be a much older novel, Collins, William Wilkie, The woman in white (London, 1860).

34 Sedgwick, P., Psychopolitics (London, 1981); Megill, A., ‘Foucault, ambiguity, and the rhetoric of historiography’, History of the Human Sciences, 3 (1990), pp. 343–61.

35 Scull, ‘Quarter century’, p. 241; idem, ‘The fictions of Foucault's scholarship’, Times Literary Supplement (21 Mar. 2007).

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38 For example Arnold, C., Bedlam: London and its mad (London, 2008). Many other (admittedly readable) victimologies similarly ignore inconvenient historical evidence. Keay, J., Alexander the corrector: the tormented genius who unwrote the Bible (London, 2004).

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40 Gelman, S., ‘The law and psychiatry wars, 1960–1980’, California Western Law Review, 34 (1997), pp. 153–75. The number of patients in British asylums was reduced by 80 per cent between 1960 and 1990.

41 Stone, L., ‘The revival of narrative: reflections on a new old history’, Past and Present, 85 (1979), p. 9; Tilly, C., ‘Retrieving European lives’, in Zunz, O., ed., Reliving the past: the worlds of social history (London, 1985), p. 15.

42 Wilson, A., ‘A critical portrait of social history’, in Wilson, A. (ed.), Rethinking social history: English society, 1570–1920, and its interpretation (Manchester, 1993), p. 25; Scull, A., Social order/mental disorder: Anglo-American psychiatry in historical perspective (London, 1989), pp. 910.

43 R. S. Porter, ‘The making of geology: earth science in Britain, 1660–1815’ (Ph.D. thesis, Cambridge, 1975); Schaffer, S., ‘Obituary: Roy Sydney Porter’, Social Studies of Science, 32 (2002), pp. 477–86; Webster, C., The great instauration: science, medicine and reform, 1626–1660 (London, 1975).

44 MacDonald, M. and Murphy, T. R., Sleepless souls: suicide in early modern England (Oxford, 1990).

45 Micale and Porter, ‘Reflections on psychiatry’, p. 9; Bromberg, W., ‘Some social aspects of the history of psychiatry’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 11 (1942), pp. 117–32; Rothman, D. J., The discovery of the asylum: social order and disorder in the new republic (New York, NY, 1971); Grob, G. N., Mental institutions in America: social policy to 1875 (New York, NY, 1973). Obelkevich, J., ‘New developments in history in the 1950s and 1960s’, Contemporary British History, 14 (2000), pp. 125–42.

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54 Dörner, K., Madmen and the bourgeoisie: a social history of insanity and psychiatry (Oxford, 1981). Far better and more recent books remain available only in German. Schär, M., Seelennöte der Untertanen: Selbstmord, Melancholie, und Religion im alten Zürich, 1500–1800 (Zurich, 1985); Signori, G., Trauer, Verzweiflung und Anfechtung: Selbstmord und Selbstmordversuche in spätmittelalterlichen und frühneuzeitlichen Gesellschaften (Tübingen, 1994); Lind, V., Selbstmord in der frühen Neuzeit: Diskurs, Lebenswelt und kultureller Wandel am Beispiel der Herzogtümer Schleswig und Holstein (Göttingen, 1999); Baumann, U., Vom Recht auf den eigenen Tod: die Geschichte des Suizids vom 18. bis zum 20. Jahrhundert (Weimar, 2001).

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56 Rousseau, ‘Psychology’, p. 203; see also pp. 182–9, 200–2, 209–10.

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58 Philo, C., A geographical history of institutional provision for the insane from medieval times to the 1860s in England and Wales: the space reserved for insanity (Lampeter, 2004).

59 Wilson, ‘Critical portrait of social history’, p. 36. The distinction originated with the German philosopher Windelband, W., Geschichte und Naturwissenschaft (Strassburg, 1894).

60 Neely, Distracted subjects, p. 168.

61 Salkeld, D., Madness and drama in the age of Shakespeare (Manchester, 1993), pp. 2, 59–60; Neely, Distracted subjects, pp. 210, 211; Kromm, J., The art of frenzy: public madness in the visual culture of Europe, 1500–1850 (London, 2002), p. 25, describes mania as ‘an absolute rejection of civilizing processes’.

62 Porter, Mind-forg'd manacles, p. 280. ‘It is not that Foucault was a historian himself or, if he were, he was a very bad one.’ Bentley, M., Modern historiography: an introduction (London, 1999), p. 141; Rousseau, ‘Psychology’, p. 163, is more positive – and characteristically playful – in describing Foucault as ‘the Olympian master of the opaque style within the impersonal mode’.

63 MacDonald, M., ‘Madness, suicide, and the computer’, in Porter, R. and Wear, A., eds., Problems and methods in the history of medicine (London, 1987), p. 208.

64 MacDonald, M., ‘Ophelia's maimèd rites’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 37 (1986), pp. 309–17; Boettcher, S. R., ‘The linguistic turn’, in Walker, , ed., Writing early modern history, pp. 7194.

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66 MacDonald, M., ‘Religion, social change and psychological healing in England, 1600–1800’, in Sheils, W. J., ed., The church and healing (Oxford, 1982), pp. 101–25; Moore, C. A., Backgrounds of English literature, 1700–1760 (Minneapolis, MN, 1950); Babb, L., The Elizabethan malady: a study of melancholia in English literature from 1580 to 1640 (East Lansing, MI, 1951); Klibansky, R., Panofsky, E., and Saxl, F., Saturn and melancholy: studies in the history of natural philosophy, religion, and art (London, 1964).

67 Foucault, M., Madness and civilization: a history of insanity in the age of reason (1961; New York, NY, 1965), pp. 40–1; Harper, S., Insanity, individuals, and society in late-medieval English literature: the subject of madness (Lampeter, 2003); Chakravarti, P., ‘Natural fools and the historiography of Renaissance folly’, Renaissance Studies, 25 (2011), pp. 208–27.

68 Gowland, A., ‘The ethics of Renaissance melancholy’, Intellectual History Review, 18 (2008), pp. 103–17.

69 Ingram, Cultural constructions of madness.

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71 Micale and Porter, ‘Reflections on psychiatry’, p. 6; Tomes, N., ‘Feminist histories of psychiatry’, in Micale, and Porter, , eds., Discovering the history of psychiatry, pp. 348, 359–60; Andrews, J. and Digby, A., ‘Introduction: gender and class in the historiography of British and Irish psychiatry’, in Andrews, J. and Digby, A., eds., Sex and seclusion, class and custody – perspectives on gender and class in the history of British psychiatry (Amsterdam, 2004), pp. 744.

72 This approach originated with Davis, N. Z., ‘Women's history in transition: the European case’, Feminist Studies, 3 (1975–6), p. 90; Houston, R. A., ‘Madness and gender in the long eighteenth century’, Social History, 27 (2002), pp. 309–26.

73 Small, H., Love's madness: medicine, the novel, and female insanity, 1800–1865 (Oxford, 1996).

74 Rousseau, G., ‘Depression's forgotten genealogy: notes towards a history of depression’, History of Psychiatry, 11 (2000), pp. 71106; idem, Nerves, fibres and spirits: essays in cultural history and understanding (London, 2004).

75 Hodgkin, K., Madness in seventeenth-century autobiography (Basingstoke, 2007); see also Ryscamp, C. A., William Cowper of the Inner Temple, esq. (Cambridge, 1959).

76 Kromm, Art of frenzy; Houston, R. A., ‘The face of madness in eighteenth-century Scotland’, Eighteenth-Century Life, 27 (2003), pp. 4966.

77 Schmidt, J., Melancholy and the care of the soul: religion, moral philosophy and madness in early modern England (Aldershot, 2007), p. 16.

78 Ibid., p. 131.

79 Burke, P., The historical anthropology of early modern Italy: essays on perception and communication (Cambridge, 1987).

80 Gowland, A., The worlds of Renaissance melancholy: Robert Burton in context (Cambridge, 2006).

81 Haskell, Y., ‘Essay review: the languages of melancholy in early modern England’, British Journal for the History of Science, 42 (2009), pp. 275–80; R. Terry, ed., Depression in the Enlightenment, Studies in the Literary Imagination, 44 (2011).

82 MacDonald, M., Witchcraft and hysteria in Elizabethan London: Edward Jorden and the Mary Glover case (London, 1991).

83 Brown, M., ‘Rethinking early nineteenth-century asylum reform’, Historical Journal, 49 (2006), pp. 425–52.

84 Andrews, J., ‘Begging the question of idiocy: the definition and socio-cultural meaning of idiocy in early modern Britain’, 2 parts, History of Psychiatry, 9 (1998), pp. 6595, 179–200.

85 Michael, P., Care and treatment of the mentally ill in North Wales, 1800–2000 (Cardiff, 2003), pp. 2, 5.

86 Rice, F. J., ‘The origins of an organisation of insanity in Scotland’, Scottish Economic and Social History, 5 (1985), pp. 4156; Anderson, N. and Langa, A., ‘The development of institutional care for “idiots and imbeciles” in Scotland’, History of Psychiatry, 8 (1997), pp. 243–66; Houston, R. A., ‘Institutional care for the insane and idiots in Scotland before 1820’, 2 parts, History of Psychiatry, 12 (2001), pp. 331, 177–97; idem, ‘Poor relief and the dangerous and criminal insane in Scotland, c. 1740–1840’, Journal of Social History, 40 (2006), pp. 453–76; Michael, Care and treatment, pp. 2–3.

87 Mason, A., ‘The reverend John Ashbourne (c. 1611–1661) and the origins of the private madhouse system’, History of Psychiatry, 5 (1994), pp. 321–45 : Houston, R. A., ‘Clergy and the care of the insane in eighteenth-century Britain’, Church History, 73 (2004), pp. 114–38.

88 Williams, S. A., ‘Care in the community: women and the old poor law in early nineteenth-century Anglesey’, Llafur: Journal of Welsh Labour History, 6 (1995), pp. 3043; Woodward, N., ‘Infanticide in Wales, 1730–1830’, Welsh History Review, 23 (2007), pp. 114, 115.

89 Kelly, B. D., ‘Dr William Saunders Hallaran and psychiatric practice in nineteenth-century Ireland’, Irish Journal of Medical Science, 177 (2008), pp. 7984; DePorte, M. V., Nightmares and hobbyhorses: Swift, Sterne, and Augustan ideas of madness (San Marino, CA, 1974); Real, H. J. and Vienken, H. J., ‘Psychoanalytic criticism and Swift: the history of a failure’, Eighteenth-Century Ireland, 1 (1986), pp. 127–41.

90 Robins, J., Fools and mad: a history of the insane in Ireland (Dublin, 1986), pp. 1454; Burke, H., The people and the poor law in nineteenth-century Ireland (Dublin, 1987); Gillespie, J. E., ‘“Every material of the best quality”: the foundation of Bloomfield Hospital, Dublin’, Journal of the Friends’ Historical Society, 55 (1988), pp. 185–89; O'Connor, J., The workhouses of Ireland: the fate of Ireland's poor (Dublin, 1995), pp. 1725, 30–8; see, however, Cox, C., Negotiating insanity in the southeast of Ireland, 1820–1900 (Manchester, 2012), and Prior, P. M., ‘Mad not bad: crime, mental disorder and gender in nineteenth-century Ireland’, History of Psychiatry, 8 (1997), pp. 501–16.

91 Scull, A., ‘The peculiarities of the Scots? Scottish influences on the development of English psychiatry, 1700–1980’, History of Psychiatry, 22 (2011), pp. 403–15.

92 Houston, R. A., Madness and society in eighteenth-century Scotland (Oxford, 2000).

93 Withey, A., ‘Unhealthy neglect? The medicine and medical historiography of early modern Wales’, Social History of Medicine, 21 (2008), pp. 163–74.

94 E. Donoho, ‘Appeasing the saint in the loch and the physician in the asylum: the historical geography of insanity in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, from the pre-modern to the Victorian era’ (Ph.D. thesis, Glasgow, 2012).

95 MacDonald, M., ‘Anthropological perspectives on the history of science and medicine’, in Corsi, and Weindling, , eds., Information sources, pp. 6180; Skultans, V. and Cox, J., eds., Anthropological approaches to psychological medicine (London, 2007). Skultans's earlier foray into madness shows both the influence of her own discipline (social psychology) and that of literary studies in a context of feminist and anti-psychiatric critiques. Skultans, V., English madness: ideas on insanity, 1580–1890 (London, 1979).

96 Porter, Mind-forg'd manacles, p. viii.

97 Leigh, D., The historical development of British psychiatry, i: Eighteenth and nineteenth century (Oxford, 1961); Scull, A., MacKenzie, C., and Hervey, N., Masters of Bedlam: the transformation of the mad-doctoring trade (Princeton, NJ, 1996).

98 Andrews, J. and Scull, A., Undertaker of the mind: John Monro and mad-doctoring in eighteenth-century England (London, 2001); idem, Customers and patrons of the mad-trade: the management of lunacy in eighteenth-century London, with the complete text of John Monro's case book (London, 2003).

99 Carpenter, P. K., ‘Thomas Arnold: a provincial psychiatrist in Georgian England’, Medical History, 33 (1989), pp. 199216; Andrews, J., ‘A respectable mad doctor? Dr Richard Hale F. R. S. (1670–1728)’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 44 (1990), pp. 169204.

100 Fessler, A., ‘The management of lunacy in seventeenth-century England: an investigation of quarter-session records’, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 49 (1956), pp. 901–7; Rushton, P., ‘Lunatics and idiots: mental disability, the community, and the poor law in north-east England, 1600–1800’, Medical History, 32 (1988), pp. 3450. Rushton was originally a social anthropologist who later incorporated sociology into his historical work. Suzuki, A., ‘Lunacy in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England: analysis of quarter sessions records‘, 2 parts, History of Psychiatry, 2 (1991), pp. 437–56, 3 (1992), pp. 29–44; Black, S. B., An eighteenth century mad-doctor: William Perfect of West Malling (Sevenoaks, 1995), pp. 53, 62–3.

101 Houston, R. A., ‘Courts, doctors and insanity defences in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Scotland’, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 26 (2003), pp. 339–54; D. J. Adamson, ‘Insanity, idiocy and responsibility: criminal defences in southern Scotland and northern England, c. 1660–1830’ (Ph.D. thesis, St Andrews, 2004); Houston, Suicide, pp. 325–61.

102 Houston, R. A., ‘Explanations for death by suicide in northern Britain during the long eighteenth century’, History of Psychiatry, 23 (2012), pp. 5264.

103 Dacome, L., ‘“To what purpose does it think?”: dreams, sick bodies and confused minds in the age of reason’, History of Psychiatry, 15 (2004), pp. 395416; Wiseman, S., Hodgkin, K., and O'Callaghan, M., eds., Reading the early modern dream: the terrors of the night (London, 2008); Rabin, D., ‘Drunkenness and responsibility for crime in the eighteenth century’, Journal of British Studies, 44 (2005), pp. 457–77.

104 Yeoman, L., ‘The devil as doctor: witchcraft, Wodrow and the wider world’, Scottish Archives, 1 (1995), pp. 93106; idem, ‘Archie's invisible worlds discovered – spirituality, madness and Johnston of Wariston's family’, Records of the Scottish Church History Society, 27 (1997), pp. 156–86; McDonald, S. W., Thom, A., and Thom, A., ‘The Bargarran witch trial: a psychiatric reassessment’, Scottish Medical Journal, 41 (1996), pp. 152–8; Walsham, A., ‘“Frantick Hacket”: prophecy, sorcery, insanity, and the Elizabethan puritan movement’, Historical Journal, 41 (1998), pp. 2766; Hodgkin, K., ‘Reasoning with unreason: visions, witchcraft, and madness in early modern England’, in Clark, S., ed., Languages of witchcraft: narrative, ideology and meaning in early modern culture (London, 2001), pp. 217–36.

105 Rosenwein, B. H., ‘Worrying about emotions in history’, American Historical Review, 107 (2002), pp. 821–45; Hunt, L., ‘Psychology, psychoanalysis, and historical thought’, in Kramer, L. and Maza, S., eds., A companion to western historical thought (Oxford, 2002), pp. 349, 352–3; Pollock, L. A., ‘Anger and the negotiation of relationships in early modern England’, Historical Journal, 47 (2004), pp. 567–90; Alberti, F. Bound, Matters of the heart: history, medicine, and emotion (Oxford, 2010).

106 Suzuki, A., ‘Dualism and the transformation of psychiatric language in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’, History of Science, 33 (1995), pp. 417–47; idem, ‘Anti-Lockean Enlightenment? Mind and body in early eighteenth-century English medicine’, in Porter, R., ed., Medicine in the Enlightenment (Amsterdam, 1995), pp. 336–59; Goodey, C. F., ‘“Foolishness” in early modern medicine and the concept of intellectual disability’, Medical History, 48 (2004), pp. 289310; idem, ‘Blockheads, roundheads, pointy heads: intellectual disability and the brain before modern medicine’, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 41 (2005), pp. 165–83.

107 Jordanova, History in practice, p. 109.

108 Hunt, ‘Psychology, psychoanalysis, and historical thought’, p. 345; Purkiss, D., ‘Psychoanalysis’, in Walker, , ed., Writing early modern history, pp. 114–35.

109 Bentley, Modernizing England's past, pp. 152–3; Peters, T. J. and Beveridge, A., ‘The madness of King George III: a psychiatric re-assessment’, History of Psychiatry, 21 (2010), pp. 2037.

110 Berrios, G. E. and Porter, R., eds., A history of clinical psychiatry: the origin and history of psychiatric diseases (London, 1999). On the advantages and problems of retrospective diagnosis see Bynum, W. F. and Neve, M., ‘Hamlet on the couch’, in Bynum, , Porter, , and Shepherd, , eds., The anatomy of madness, i, pp. 289304; Jordanova, L., ‘Has the social history of medicine come of age?’, Historical Journal, 35 (1993), pp. 437–49; idem, ‘The social construction of medical knowledge’, Social History of Medicine, 8 (1995), pp. 361–81. Among eloquent calls for collaboration between historians and clinicians, see Berrios, G. E., ‘Historiography of mental symptoms and diseases’, History of Psychiatry, 5 (1994), pp. 175–90. For an example, see Houston, R. A. and Frith, U., Autism in history: the case of Hugh Blair of Borgue (Oxford, 2000).

111 Micale, M. S., ‘Two cultures revisited: the case of the fin de siècle’, in Bivins, and Pickstone, , eds., Medicine, madness and social history, p. 222.

112 Jackson, M., The age of stress: science and the search for stability (Oxford, 2012).

113 Wrightson, Earthly necessities, p. 15.

114 Marx, O. M., ‘What is the history of psychiatry?’, History of Psychiatry, 3 (1992), pp. 279301.

115 Smith, A., An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations (2 vols., 1776; London, 1778 edn), i, p. 420.

116 Hochschild, A., ‘Practicing history without a license’, Historically Speaking, 9 (2008), pp. 26, and debate at pp. 6–23.

117 Hare, E., ‘The origin and spread of dementia paralytica’, Journal of Mental Science, 105 (1959), pp. 594626; idem, ‘Was insanity on the increase?’, British Journal of Psychiatry, 142 (1983), pp. 439–55; see, however, Scull, A. T., ‘Was insanity increasing? A response to Edward Hare’, British Journal of Psychiatry, 144 (1984), pp. 432–6.

118 Snow, C. P., Recent thought on the two cultures (London, 1961); Berrios, ‘Historiography of mental symptoms’, p. 175; Wilson, ‘Critical portrait of social history’, pp. 30–1.

119 Peterson, D., ed., A mad people's history of madness (Pittsburgh, PA, 1982); Porter, R., Social history of madness: stories of the insane (London, 1987); Ingram, A., Voices of madness: four pamphlets, 1683–1796 (Stroud, 1997); Hodgkin, K., ed., Women, madness and sin in early modern England: the autobiographical writings of Dionys Fitzherbert (Farnham, 2010).

120 Berrios, ‘Historiography of mental symptoms’, p. 176.

121 Gowland, Renaissance melancholy, p. 300.

* I am grateful to Michael Bentley, Andrew Burt, Gayle Davis, Aileen Fyfe, and Malcolm Nicolson for comments on earlier drafts. I should also like to thank those who discussed their work with me; I hope they will understand my decision to maintain their anonymity in the text.

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