HIS31310 Madness and Civilisation

Academic Year 2023/2024

The module will explore the relationship between madness and society in Britain and Ireland from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. In the eighteenth century the 'insane' were cast as brute animals in need of control. By the early-twentieth century the mentally ill were institutionsalised and their treatment had become medicalised. This module seeks to explore this transition and provide a broad overview of the history of lay and medical explanations of insanity. Breaking with notions of a progressive evolution in understandings and treatments of mental illness, the module will consider how and why changes took place and questions whether they represent 'improvement'. Why did the asylums become central to the treatment of insanity and who did they serve; doctors, patients or families? How far did gender, sexuality, class, religion and ethnicity impact upon medical and lay concepts of insanity in Britain and Ireland? What impact did shell-shock, psychoanalysis and treatments have upon British and Irish psychiatry? What were patients' accounts of their experiences of mental illness and institutionalisation? Drawing on a range of source material - medical literature, cultural representations and personal accounts - the module will seek to understand lay and medical explanations of mental disorder, which were often rooted in cultural, religious and intellectual frameworks.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On successful completion of this module students should a) develop writing and communication skills b) develop a critical understanding of medicine and social policy as part of broader changes in British and Irish society c) enhance their skills in essay writing, presenting their work to peers and participation in seminars d) develop critical skills through the assessment of a range of historical and inter-disciplinary approaches within the social history and the history of medicine e) enhance your ability to evaluate a range of primary sources and their potential use to historians.

Indicative Module Content:

The content of the module is updated regularly. The main themes covered include:
'Madness in the Eighteenth Century'; 'Bethlem and the Trade in Lunacy'; 'Lunacy Reform and Moral Management c. 1790-1850'; 'The Rise of the Asylum'; 'The Medicalisation of Insanity; Gender and Insanity: Hysteria and Shell-Shock'; 'Criminal Insanity and Psychiatry in the Court-room'; 'Patient Narratives'; 'Themes of Degeneracy and Eugenics'; 'Migration, Ethnicity and Madness'; 'Healing the Mind in the Twentieth Century'; 'Anti-Psychiatry and Care in the Community'.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Seminar (or Webinar)




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This is a small-group, seminar-based module. It is taught through two-hourly seminars held weekly. These provide an overview of the week’s topic, focusing upon key historical trends, debates and events. The weekly seminar is focused upon individual active / task-based learning by means of class debates, discussion and student presentations. Advanced research, writing and citation skills are developed through a combined individual student presentation on primary sources and written essay, and a semester-long 3,500-4,000 word research project. Autonomous learning is advanced through student-led debate and discussion of set primary sources and / or student presentations each week. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
HIS20080 - Madness and Civilisation, HIS30400 - Madness & Civilisation, HIS40710 - Madness and Civilisation (L4)

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Continuous Assessment: Assessment of class participation Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Essay: 3,000-3,500 word research paper Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Presentation: See Handbook Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No



Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment
• Online automated feedback
• Peer review activities

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Feedback on the continuous assessment will be given in written, oral and automated online form and by appointment in one-to-one meetings. Oral feedback will also be given by peers during activities. Feedback on class presentations will be emailed after each presentation. Feedback on journal submissions will be given to the groups and periodically (3 times) via Brightspace over the trimester. Written and oral feedback will be provided on an ongoing basis in one-to-one meetings with module co-ordinator on preparatory plans and primary and secondary source bibliographies for end-of-semester Research Project Assignments. Feedback on the end-of-semester Research Project Assignment will be given by appointment in one-to-one meetings.