HIST 4806A: Madness Past and Present
Winter 2024 

Instructor: Professor James Miller 

In this seminar we will explore the History of Madness from the nineteenth century to the present day. The geographical focus will be mostly on North America and Great Britain. The course will trace changing ideas about and definitions of Madness, including how it has been understood medically, socially, culturally, and personally. An important focus of the class will be on how individuals experienced being mad or of being declared mad by others, and on how they represented those experiences in various ways, such as art and memoir. The connections between Madness in the past and in the present will be a central theme of the class.

Topics to be studied may include:

  • The many meanings of “Madness”
  • Medical theories and treatments of mental illness
  • The history of asylums
  • Psychiatry and Anti-Psychiatry
  • Representations of Madness in culture (film, fiction, memoir, art)

Course Aims and Learning Outcomes

In working hard to complete this course successfully you will develop your understanding of the subject as well as improve your skills in the various kinds of expertise required of historians. Both generally and with particular application to the history of Madness, you will further develop your ability to:

  • Understand significant historical events, people, institutions, and ideas
  • Analyze and assess various kinds of historical sources
  • Conduct independent research using various kinds of sources
  • Communicate your historical thinking and research activities in writing and in discussion

Course Format

This is an in-person only course that meets once a week for a three-hour period. Class time will be divided between discussing the week’s topics and readings (perhaps with the occasional spellbinding short lecture thrown in) and working on your research project.   

Assignments and Assessment

  • Class Participation (not just showing up, although that certainly helps!)
  • Short Writing Assignments
  • Two-part Research Project

If you have any questions about the course, please contact me at james.miller@carleton.ca