Computer Systems Engineering (3 Years) [BEng]

Madness and Society in the Modern Age

Unit code: UCIL30832
Credit Rating: 10
Unit level: Level 3
Teaching period(s): Semester 2
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
Available as a free choice unit?: Y




This course explores the history of psychiatry from the late eighteenth century to the present.  It examines how insanity has been understood, treated, and represented within larger social, cultural, and intellectual frameworks; it will also relate changing ideas about and approaches to mental illness, health, and functioning to larger questions in the history of the medical and biological sciences.  Our focus will be on developments in Britain, but with frequent reference to developments in Continental Europe and in North America

This course unit is also available as a 20credit version (UCIL 30332)



This unit introduces students to the social, cultural, intellectual and institutional history of madness, psychiatry, and mental health. Through lectures, interactive workshops, and reading a combination of primary sources and secondary analyses, students gain an appreciation of:

  • how madness has been understood, by experts and by everyday people
  • how madness has been managed, socially and institutionally
  • how science, medicine, and culture interact in shaping responses to madness. Our focus is primarily on the period 1780 to the present, and primarily on the UK, but with some discussion of Western Europe and North America.

Teaching and learning methods

12 x 1 hour lectures

12 x 1 hour workshops

56 hours independent study


Learning outcomes

Students will able to:       

  • Show an appreciation of historical approaches to medical thinking and practice
  • Demonstrate knowledge of how approaches to madness changed from 1780 onwards
  • Critically analyse historians' arguments
  • Explore primary sources and historical data
  • Take part in informed discussions of past and present medical practices
  • Improve writing skills, through assimilation of feedback and revision

Employability skills

  • Analytical skillsEssays and workshop discussions require research and analysis of information
  • Group/team workingWeekly workshops require students to work and discuss together in small groups
  • ResearchStudents expected to engage in their own independent research for essays

Assessment Further Information

Essay (50%) and 2 hour examination (50%)


Topics covered in previous years include:

1  ‘The birth of the Asylum’

2]  ‘The Expansion of the Asylum’

3]  ‘Theorising Insanity: Minds and Bodies’

4]  ‘Gender, Madness and Society’

5]  ‘Race, Madness and Colonial Psychiatry’

6]  ‘Freud, Psychoanalysis and Culture’

7]  ‘Shell Shock, Psychiatry and War’

8]  ‘The Brain, the Body, and the Mind’

9]  ‘Therapy and the Post-war Institution’

10] ‘The Normal and the Difficult Child’

11] ‘The Psychiatrization of Everyday Life?’


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.

Feedback methods

Students will receive individual feedback on all of their written assignments as well as general feedback given to the whole class.


Study hours

  • Assessment written exam - 2 hours
  • Lectures - 12 hours
  • Seminars - 12 hours
  • Independent study hours - 74 hours

Teaching staff

Carsten Timmermann - Unit coordinator

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