Andrew Scull: Madness in Civilisation

Fascinating session with Professor Andrew Cull, who has documented 2000 years of madness – a term which has been used on and off for centuries, and has now been reclaimed by some of those suffering from mental illness. He illustrated the talk with a series of slides taken from his book, often disturbing in nature as he guided us through the various manifestations of the illness and it’s cures. 

What was surprising was that in the past, medical meanings existed in parallel to the superstious explanations of madness. His book also explores how novelists illustrated the subject, from Ibsen to Zola, including of course Charlotte Bronte’s Bertha Mason, the infamous ‘madwoman in the attic’. What’s clear (and for me, disappointing) is that the history of madness is not a linear one, with theories and treatments lurching back and forth over the years.

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