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Dr Louise Hide

MA (London), PhD (London)

Wellcome Trust Research Fellow in Medical Humanities and Social Sciences

Contact details

Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
Birkbeck, University of London
Room B32, 26 Russell Square



  • I am a social and cultural historian of psychiatry and its institutions.  I hold a Wellcome Trust Fellowship in Medical Humanities for my project ‘Hiding in Plain Sight. Cultures of Harm in Residential Institutions for Long-Term Adult Care, Britain 1945-1980s’. More information can be found here. Prior to this, I held a two-year Fellowship funded by the Birkbeck Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF).
  • From January 2011 to December 2013, I was the lead post-doc researcher for the Birkbeck Pain Project that was led by Professor Joanna Bourke. During this time I worked on pain and delusions experienced primarily by men with tertiary syphilis in late nineteenth-century asylums.
  • I am a senior Fellow (affiliate) of the Wellcome Trust funded 'Sexual Violence, Medicine and Psychiatry' project, as well as the co-founder and director of the Birkbeck Trauma Project.

Research and teaching

  • Introduction
  • For my current project, I am returning to the extensive documentation generated by inquiries held during the 1970s into abuse in two long-stay psychiatric and ‘mental handicap’ hospitals. A close analysis of the records, which include thousands of pages of interview transcripts and witness testimonies, reveals prevailing belief systems, attitudes and practices that gave rise to and perpetuated abusive behaviours.
  • How, I ask, did these beliefs and attitudes gain traction within the ward and hospital environments? In what ways were they transmitted through cultural vectors such as: rhetorical devices (language, jokes and silence); the organisation of spatial and temporal structures; the role of material objects such as clothing; and the practice of cruel, violent and neglectful behaviours, including sexual abuse. How were these actions and behaviours understood within contemporaneous ideas of compassion and empathy?  Which mechanisms and systems – normalisation, complicity, denial, disavowal and ‘turning a blind eye’ – facilitated them? How were notions of ‘harm’ and ‘doing harm’ conceptualised and, in turn, articulated within shifting meanings and expectations of ‘care’, being ‘cared for’, and being a ‘carer’ for some of society’s least valued citizens?
  • More information can be found here:
  • I am a joint guest editor with Joanna Bourke of a special issue of the Social History of Medicine, published in November 2018. This is based on a major international, cross-disciplinary conference titled ‘Cultures of Harm in Institutions of Care. Historical and Contemporary Perspectives' that took place in 2016. It included a half-day public workshop organised with the Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image (BIMI) titled ‘Undercover. Institutional Abuse, Covert Investigations and History’ which brought together academics and media practitioners to explore how ideas of authority and ‘truth’ are transmitted through different mediums.
  • Research interests
  • History of abuse contextualised within understandings of 'care'
  • History of institutional cultures
  • History of 'madness'
  • Social and cultural history of pain and trauma
  • I am particularly interested in exploring how my research can deepen our understanding of how and why institutional abuse continues to this day.
  • Teaching
  • ‘Madness and its Meanings’ (MA module, 2018-19)
  • ‘Madness’ is a slippery concept that has been constructed and reconstructed over time around oscillating ideas of normalcy and deviance. Depending on the medical, socio-economic, political and commercial interests circulating at any given period of time it has been understood as a disorder of the brain, as a result of environmental conditions, or both. Without denying the devastating realities of mental distress, this module looks at how and why certain human behaviours and mental conditions have been interpreted as ‘disordered’ within cultural understandings of gender, race, sexuality and age. We explore the politicisation and commercialisation of different mental conditions and analyse a wide range of primary source material produced from the late nineteenth century to the present day. Guest speakers join some of the seminars. By asking whose interests the meanings of madness served, as well as how these understandings influenced treatment and the subjective experiences of patients, students will be able to engage more critically with mental health issues of today.
  • I have taught on the core BA module 'Exploring the Past' as well as modules on 'History and Literature' (MA), 'Britain’s Medical Marketplaces' (MA), and 'Gender, Space and Time' (BA).
  • PhD supervision
  • I am happy to supervise dissertations at all levels on subjects around the histories of abuse, institutions, madness, psychiatry and related topics.


  • Books
  • Unbecoming. Madness, Medicine and the Asylum (provisional title). Forthcoming 2019, commissioned by Fig Tree (Penguin)
  • Gender and Class in English Asylums, 1890-1914 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).
  • Points of View: Capturing the 19th Century in Photographs (London: The British Library, 2009), with John Falconer
  • Journal articles
  • 'In Plain Sight: Open Doors, Mixed-sex Wards and Sexual Abuse in English Psychiatric Hospitals, 1950s to Early 1990s', Social History of Medicine, 31.4, 2018, 732-53
  • Louise Hide and Joanna Bourke, 'Cultures of Harm in Institutions of Care: Introduction', Social History of Medicine, 31.4, 2018, 679-87
  • 'From Asylum to Mental Hospital: Gender, Space and the Patient Experience in London County Council Asylums, 1890-1914' in Jane Hamlett, Lesley Hoskins and Rebecca Preston (eds), Residential Institutions in Britain, 1725-1970. Inmates and Environments (Pickering and Chatto, 2013)
  • 'Making Sense of Pain. Delusions, Syphilis and Somatic Pain in London County Council Asylums, c.1900', 19. Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, 15 (2012).
  • 'Perspectives on Pain. Introduction', 19. Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, 15 (2012), with Joanna Bourke and Carmen Mangion.
  • Book reviews
  • Jennifer Wallis, Investigating the Body in the Victorian Asylum. Doctors, Patients and Practices, History of Human Sciences website, 1 August 2018.
  • Claire Hilton, Improving Psychiatric Care for Older People, Barbara Robb's Campaign, 1965-1975, History of Psychiatry, 29.4 (2018), 501-2
  • Tommy Dickinson, ‘“Curing Queers”: Mental Nurses and their Patients, 1935–74’, History of Psychiatry, 27.2 (2016), 241-2.
  • Petteri Pietikäinen, ‘Madness. A History’, Social History of Medicine, 29.3 (2016), 665-6
  • Other publications:
  • ‘Dialogue with Pain. How and when we give meaning to bodily pain’, Wellcome History, 53 (Summer 2014), 2-3
  • Recent conference papers
  • 'Staying up late: Television as a technology of discipline and control on long-stay psychiatric wards, 1950s-70s', Cultural Histories of National Health Care Conference, University of Warwick, 18-19 September 2018
  • 'Who will challenge Dr H.? Patient abuse, clinical autonomy and institutional complicity in South Ockendon Hospital, 1970s', Society for the Social History of Medicine Conference, University of Liverpool, July 2018
  • 'Watching the Box: The Social and Cultural Impact of Television Sets on Long-Stay Psychiatric Wards, 1950s-70s', Material Cultures of Psychiatry, Universitatsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, May 2018
  • 'Hiding in Plain Sight: Cultures of Harm in Residential Institutions for Long-Term Adult Care', Modern British Studies, Birmingham, July 2017
  • ‘Unlocking the wards. How the “open-door” policy re-shaped the meaning of space in English psychiatric hospitals, 1945-60s’, Social History of Medicine conference, University of Kent, July 2016.
  • Introduction to ‘Cultures of Harm in Institutions of Care. Historical and Contemporary Perspectives’, Birkbeck, 14-16 April 2016
  • ‘Care, control, or a little of each? Masculinity, the military and mental nurses, 1890 - 1970s’, at ‘Masculinity, health and medicine, c.1750-present’, University of Strathclyde Glasgow, April 2016. Journal article in progress.
  • ‘Mixing the sexes. New therapeutic spaces in English psychiatric hospitals, 1950s-1990s’, Glasgow Caledonian University, February 2016 (invited speaker). Journal article in progress.


  • I regularly advise TV and radio production companies on issues around the history of madness, psychiatry, asylums and medicine. Media appearances include:
  • Radio:
  • The Language of Pain’, BBC Radio 4, 2 May 2015
  • Thinking Allowed’, BBC Radio 4, 16 February 2015
  • TV:
  • ‘Secrets from the Asylum’, ITV, 20 August 2014 (consultant and contributor)
  • I was the lead organiser, with Joanna Bourke, of 'Pain and its Meanings' – a two-day event at Wellcome Collection that attracted national press and radio coverage. Poets, musicians, artists and leading thinkers from different disciplines presented specially commissioned work and thought-provoking papers to stimulate discussion around the meaning of pain
  • Co-curator responsible for interpretation of ‘Points of View: Capturing the 19th Century in Photographs’, a major exhibition at the British Library, October 2009 - March 2010
  • I regularly give public talks on various aspects of the history of psychiatry and its institutions, including asylums

Honours and awards

  • Wellcome Trust Research Fellow in Medical Humanities and the Social Sciences (2017-2021)
  • Birkbeck Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund Fellowship


  • Joint guest editor with Professor Joanna Bourke of a special issue of the Social History of Medicine, volume 31, Number 4, 2018 titled 'Cultures of Harm in Institutions of Care
  • I am currently working on a non-fiction book that is part memoir, part history of the first women doctors to work in asylums in the late nineteenth century commissioned by Fig Tree (Penguin) and due for publication in 2019.