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Madness, insanity, lunacy, losing one’s mind, nervous breakdown, psychosis, neurosis; some of the myriad terms that have been used to describe what happens when a person is deemed to no longer have control over word, thought or deed. It is one of the most baffling of phenomena and has been for millennia.
“Minds and Madness” explores the terms using lenses provided by history and philosophy. We focus on a number of inter-related questions:
- whether mental illnesses are natural kinds (i.e. are they real and if so what is the nature of their reality)?
- how have underlying theories of cause and pathology created specific therapeutic measures?
- and what has been the relationship between the psych-sciences and power (focusing upon patients, practitioners, and the intersections of ethnicity, class and gender)?
A flavour of the subject is captured by the people, events and therapies we explore: Burton, Descartes and Locke; asylums, mental hospitals and therapeutic communities; psychosurgery, electro-convulsive therapy, psychoanalysis, anti-psychiatry and psychopharmacology; the major contemporary disease-categories (schizophrenia, bi-polar &c.) and disease-categories that have morphed or disappeared (fugue, melancholia, hysteria). We explore the history of classification systems (e.g. the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) and the different disciplines that have produced them (psychiatry, psychology and neurology). By the end of the subject students should have a profound understanding of the nature of the psych-sciences and the people and conditions they have sought to understand and treat.
“Minds and Madness” is a blended-learning subject. Lectures are provided online as weekly modules. They combine text, images, links, video and extensive bibliographies. Students are asked to explore these, addressing the questions raised in the modules. They also attend a two-hour workshop where the major issues are explored, while ideas and assessments are workshopped. It is a subject that will appeal to anyone who has an interest in psychiatry, psychology, the neurosciences, and history and philosophy more generally.
Intended learning outcomes
Students undertaking this subject will:
- demonstrate a broad knowledge of the history and historiography of minds and madness
- synthesise, analyse and assess arguments about minds and madness, and contextualise these arguments within the broader realms of science, history and philosophy
- create effective arguments, backed up by convincing evidence, about the historical dynamics of minds and madness and medicine, and be able to express these to experts and interested non-experts alike
- develop high-level research skills, including the ability to extend your knowledge-base beyond subject materials, combining traditional library- and archive-based research with digital research
- develop effective communication and presentation skills (written and oral), and the ability to collaborate constructively within the classroom
- demonstrate ethical integrity in written work and classroom activities, including a deep ethical engagement with issues around mental health and illness
Last updated: 8 August 2023