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Peter Barham

Peter Barham’s most recent book, Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War, is out in paperback from Yale.

Foucault's History of Madness

Peter Barham, 8 March 2007

In the 1950s, three individuals, unknown to one another and from different countries, were engaged in what seem, looking back, to have been remarkably similar projects vis-à-vis those whom society designates as mad. One was a philosophy student: ‘I used to work in a psychiatric hospital in the 1950s. After having studied philosophy, I wanted to see what madness was: I had been mad...

Madness in the nineteenth century

Peter Barham, 17 August 2006

In February 1823, readers of the Times were treated to a detailed account of the goings-on in the home of the third Earl of Portsmouth and his wife of ten years, Mary Anne Hanson. She had for some time been having an affair with William Rowland Alder, a lawyer. The pair abused and mocked Lord Portsmouth, both physically and mentally, even making him a spectator to their fornication. These...

Henry Cotton

Peter Barham, 18 August 2005

A professor of surgery in Edinburgh in the 1850s confided that patients entering hospital for surgery were ‘exposed to more chances of death than was the English soldier on the field of Waterloo’. By the end of the 19th century, however, Joseph Lister had introduced an effective antisepsis routine, and this, combined with anaesthesia, had transformed surgery (though mortality...

Two Ronnies

Peter Barham, 4 July 1985

Schizophrenia is now held to be one of the major illnesses of mankind, but its recognition as a clinical syndrome is of relatively recent origin. There is something very odd about the sudden arrival of the chronic schizophrenic on the stage of history at the end of the 19th century. One hypothesis which has been canvassed recently is that schizophrenia was a novel condition, unknown before the end of the 18th century, which spread as a slow, possibly viral epidemic across Europe and the United States in the 19th century, contributing in large measure to the vast increase in the population of asylums, and culminating in its recognition, under the name dementia praecox, as a definite syndrome by Emil Kraepelin in 1899. But a more historically-minded reading delivers a rather different interpretation of the coincidence between the identification of the chronic schizophrenic as a progressively deteriorating type and the transformation of the asylum into a custodial institution for the socially unproductive. On this view, the formulation of schizophrenia as a chronic condition was deeply implicated in a field of social forces in which people who suffered from mental tribulation came to be represented as lacking any semblance of social value.

Malingering

Adam Phillips, 3 March 2005

Malingering, the OED tells us, is something originally done by the armed forces: ‘To pretend illness, or to produce or protract illness, in order to escape duty; said esp. of soldiers and...

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Stories

Adam Morton, 18 April 1985

It would be nice to know what to believe. In many areas of opinion, though psychology is a particularly good example, it is easy for an idea to be attractive, sometimes almost irresistibly so,...

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