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BA Art History and History / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

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Course unit details:
Madness and Society

Unit code HSTM40332
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 4
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


You will study the main ideas, figures, and events in the history of views about the nature and management of madness, and the changing social meanings and context of mental illness. Topic will include "Sigmund Freud and the ‘birth’ of psychoanalysis" and "Shell Shock, Psychiatry and War".


To explore a selection of topics in the social, cultural, intellectual, and institutional history of psychiatry in Britain from 1800 to the present. Students will become familiar with the main ideas, figures, and events in the history of views about the nature and management of madness, and the changing social meanings and context of mental illness. And they will develop an understanding of the history of psychological medicine as a case study in the interaction of science, society, and culture.

This course unit can also be taken as a 10 credit version (HSTM30832)

Learning outcomes

Students will be able:

  • to show an appreciation of historical approaches to medicine
  • to demonstrate a knowledge of the chronology of changes in the understanding and management of mental illness since 1800
  • to have a critical appreciation of the debates surrounding the reasons for particular policies and treatments for mental illness
  • to take part in informed discussions on these topics and issues
  • to reflect critically on the changing role of psychiatry and the cultural meanings of madness


  • Introduction and ‘The Age of Unreason’
  • Reforming the Mad Trade
  • The Great Confinement
  • Theories of Insanity: Phrenology to Degeneration
  • Insanity, Crime and Responsibility
  • The Madwoman and her doctors
  • Sigmund Freud and the ‘birth’ of psychoanalysis
  • Shell Shock, Psychiatry and War
  • Treating Madness: ‘A Therapeutic Revolution’?
  • The Closure of Mental Hospitals
  • From Anti-Psychotic to Life Style Drugs

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Students encouraged to reflect critically on the topics covered.
Group/team working
Students take part in group discussions and debates relating to the issues and topics covered.
Students have the opportunity to be innovative in terms of how they address their essay topic.
Project management
20-credit students are required to submit a written project.
Oral communication
Students take part in informed discussions of the topics covered.
Research required for essays and projects. Students learn to search, access and interpret online resources.
Written communication
Students receive feedback on a coursework essay. 20 credit students also produce a long essay/project.

Assessment methods

Short essay (25%); 2 hour examination (25%); long essay (50%)

Feedback methods

Students may ask questions at any time during lectures and seminars. Teaching staff can usually answer specific queries by email or during office hours, and will provide contact details in the course handbook or at lectures. All submitted coursework will be returned with annotations and an assessment sheet explaining the mark awarded. In addition, students on the 20-credit version receive comments through individual supervision meetings.

Recommended reading

Porter, Roy. Madness: A Brief History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Shorter, Edward. A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac. Chichester: Wiley, 1997.

Scull, Andrew T. Madhouse: A Tragic Tale of Megalomania and Modern Medicine. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

Zaretsky, Eli. Secrets of the Soul: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis. New York: Vintage Books, 2005. 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 11
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 176

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Carsten Timmermann Unit coordinator

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