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MADNESS: 300 YEARS OF MADNESS
Rare Printed Works on the History of Psychiatry

Part 1: Sources from the Hunter Collection, Cambridge University Library

Publisher's Note

This project is based on the renowned Hunter Collection at Cambridge University Library. Acquired by Ida Macalpine and Richard Hunter to aid the writing of their book Three Hundred Years of Psychiatry (1982), the collection spans the sixteenth to twentieth centuries. The project offers an opportunity to research the history of insanity through direction consultation of documents that have shaped and influenced the theory and treatment of madness. Discourses on insanity are represented through polemical pamphlets, three volume scientific works, political bills and case studies, as well as poetry and drama.

Sixteen items in the collection date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, offering insight into early theories and treatment of the ‘insane’. Many of these earlier texts focus on madness as the result of witchcraft, demonic possession, or external forces, such as Francis Pereauld’s The Divell of Mascon: or a true relation of the chief things which an Unclean Spirit did and said at Mascon in Burgundy (1679) or Richard Mead’s treatise Of the Power and Influence of the Sun and Moon on Humane Bodies, and the Diseases that Rise from Thence (1712). In the classic text An Essay on the Incubus, or Nightmare (1753), John Bond explores this notion of mental disturbance as essentially diabolic, offering an analysis of the incubus, an evil spirit who visited sleeping women and was even credited with the ability to impregnate them.

However, there are also documents from this period which represent the movement towards psychiatry. This had its roots in a tradition of naturalistic concepts about madness, which had long co-existed with the common belief in supernatural causes. There was increasing support for the notion of madness being a bodily, rather than spiritual malady, as discussed in David Kinneir’s  New Essay on the Nerves, and the Doctrine of the Animal Spirits Rationally Considered (1738).

A substantial number of documents deal with institutions and hospitals designed to contain or cure madness, beginning with A description of Bedlam: with an account of its present inhabitants from 1722, which acknowledges the public fascination with the insane, being published for “universal instruction and entertainment”. The foundation of London’s second lunatic asylum is described in Reasons for the Establishing and Further Encouragement of St. Luke’s (1751).

The history of madness in the modern period is well represented, with works on neurasthenia (Autobiography of a Neurasthene); psychoanalysis (Ernest Jones’ Papers on Psychoanalysis)  and shell shock (Shell Shock and its Lessons).

The materials in this collection weave a fascinating narrative, tracing the evolution of psychiatry, and the development of treatments for insanity during the last three hundred years. From demonic possession, Bedlam and ‘animal spirits’ to hysteria, rest cures and battlefield trauma, discourses of madness continue to reveal much about social attitudes and beliefs.

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