MA option, taught by Ana Antic

This module introduces students to the emergence of modern psychiatric categories and conceptions of madness and normality, and familiarises them with the historical development of the psychiatric profession from the late nineteenth century to present-day debates regarding mental disorders and their treatment. The course seeks to establish connections between the prevalent notions of madness and mental disorder on the one side, and social, cultural, economic and political factors on the other. It will explore how constructs such as social class, race and gender shaped definitions and understandings of normality and deviance, and how these understandings developed over time. Therefore, the module will make students aware of the importance of historical and critical thinking about the shifting ideas regarding mental illness. The course also aims to situate the development of psychiatry within its socio-historical contexts across regions and continents, and will seek to place the history of European psychiatry in a global context. Moreover, it will introduce an overview of a variety of (often contradictory) historical interpretations and conceptualisations of these themes, and thereby help students develop an understanding of complex and sophisticated historiographical debates in this field of history. This comprehensive examination of the history of psychiatry will help students understand the role and meaning of madness and of the psychiatric profession in the modern world, by analysing the mechanisms which are still used to define the normal and the abnormal. It will use the history of mental illness and psychiatry as a window to understanding society and culture. The course will not be strictly chronological but rather structured around thematic clusters, but will nonetheless provide a basic chronology.

In addition to appropriate academic literature, course readings include a large number of primary documents – writings of both psychiatrists and their patients – as well as works of fiction and films, which illustrate how insanity and normality are constructed culturally and in dialogue with popular tastes. Students will be encouraged to investigate the intersection between literary narratives and psychiatric case histories, and examine the possibility of reading patient files as fiction narratives.

Finally, the module will require students to engage in an analysis of primary materials, and to develop historical research skills as well as an even more nuanced understanding of the concepts and practices involved in writing a history of pathology and normality.


  1. Introduction: A contested story of origins – discovery of the asylum, “moral treatment” and social control
  2. History of a disappointment: Devising alternatives to the asylum
  3. Psychiatry and society: Class, gender and social change
  4. Ideology, race, modernization: construction of scientific identities and racial inferiority in colonial encounters
  5. Cultural specificity of psychiatric concepts
  6. Psychoanalysis and its critics: Failure or endurance?
  7. Psychiatry at war: Enter trauma – fin-de-siecle and WWI
  8. Eugenics, genocide and scientific progress: Psychiatry’s affair with Nazism
  9. ‘Second biological psychiatry’, crisis and cultural protest
  10. Diagnoses in focus: Hysteria, schizophrenia, depression

Preliminary reading

  • Mark S. Micale and R. Porter (eds.), Discovering the History of Psychiatry
  • Michelle Foucault, Madness and Civilization, excerpts
  • Rothman, The Discovery of the asylum: Social order and disorder in the New Republic, Introduction
  • Andrew Scull, Social order/Mental disorder: Anglo-American psychiatry in historical perspective