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Lives in the Asylum Record, 1864 to 1910: Utilising Large Data Collection for Histories of Psychiatry and Mental Health

  • Angela McCarthy (a1), Catharine Coleborne (a2), Maree O’Connor (a3) and Elspeth Knewstubb (a4)

This article examines the research implications and uses of data for a large project investigating institutional confinement in Australia and New Zealand. The cases of patients admitted between 1864 and 1910 at four separate institutions, three public and one private, provided more than 4000 patient records to a collaborative team of researchers. The utility and longevity of this data and the ways to continue to understand its significance and contents form the basis of this article’s interrogation of data collection and methodological issues surrounding the history of psychiatry and mental health. It examines the themes of ethics and access, record linkage, categories of data analysis, comparison and record keeping across colonial and imperial institutions, and constraints and opportunities in the data itself. The aim of this article is to continue an ongoing conversation among historians of mental health about the role and value of data collection for mental health and to signal the relevance of international multi-sited collaborative research in this field.

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Our research, which this article retrospectively examines, was generously supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund, 08-UOO-167 SOC.

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Sally Swartz , ‘Lost Lives: Gender, History and Mental Illness in the Cape, 1891–1910’, Feminism and Psychology, 9, 2 (1999), 152158.

Jonathan Andrews , ‘Case Notes, Case Histories, and the Patient’s Experience of Insanity at Gartnavel Royal Asylum, Glasgow, in the Nineteenth Century’, Social History of Medicine, 11, 2 (1998), 266.

Roy Porter , ‘The Patient’s View: Doing Medical History from Below’, Theory and Society, 14 (1985), 175198.

Sally Swartz , ‘The Regulation of British Colonial Lunatic Asylums and the Origins of Colonial Psychiatry, 1860–1864’, History of Psychology, 13, 2 (2010), 160177.

Catharine Coleborne , ‘White Men and Weak Masculinity: Men in the Public Asylums in Victoria and New Zealand, 1860s–1900s’, History of Psychiatry, 25, 4 (2014), 468476.

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Medical History
  • ISSN: 0025-7273
  • EISSN: 2048-8343
  • URL: /core/journals/medical-history
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