Symposium: Psychiatry in the 19th and 20th centuries from a transnational perspective
Date: 21-22 November 2018
Organisers: Eva Andersen & Benoît Majerus (C2DH, University of Luxembourg)
Submission deadline: 22 June 2018
Keynote speaker: Waltraud Ernst (Oxford Brookes University)
In recent years the buzzword in historical research has been "transnational history". Although over the past 15 years some historians have begun to integrate this perspective into the history of medicine and psychiatry, especially with respect to colonial history, this research area remains underdeveloped (Ernst and Mueller 2010; Roelcke et al. 2010; Novella and Huertas 2011; Burnham 2012; Ernst 2013; Hashimoto 2013; Marks 2015; Novella 2016; Müller 2017).
As Roelcke et al. put it, "[…] any up-to-date history of knowledge […] needs to take forms of transnational communication and transfer into account" (Roelcke et al. 2010, 8). Although it goes without saying that there have been transnational contacts and transfers of knowledge in the psychiatric field – translations of books, international conferences, correspondence, memberships in associations, international travel – research on these processes remains rare. This raises the urgent question of how to approach research on psychiatric history with a transnational framework in mind.
This symposium therefore aims to frame the history of psychiatry within two pillars of transnational research, encouraging participants to move away from the concept of the nation (state) that has long defined and guided research in all historical fields (Clavin 2010; Iriye 2013; Bayly et al. 2006; Laqua 2013; Haupt and Kocka 2012). Firstly, adopting a transnational approach to history allows us to break free from national constructions and boundaries, but at the same time we should not forget that transnational history is also intrinsically linked to the nation itself, as the term implies. Secondly, and more importantly, writing a transnational history of psychiatry involves looking at "links and flows, and want[ing] to track people, ideas, products, processes and patterns that operate over, across, through, beyond, above, under or in-between polities and societies", as Iriye and Saunier have asserted (Iriye and Saunier 2009, XVIII). Rather than comparing two or three national histories of psychiatry, the goal of this symposium is to focus on the "in-betweenness" and interconnectedness of these histories.
Links and flows
These connections in particular should become more central in the history of psychiatry, allowing us both to breathe new life into topics that we have hitherto only understood from a national perspective and also to learn more about the interaction, mediation and negotiation processes that have taken place in psychiatry. Who were the initiators, intermediators and receivers of psychiatric knowledge? What were the geographical start and end points of these transfer processes? How did the cross-border transfer of concepts, ideas, practices and people (psychiatrists, nurses and patients) influence local, regional, national and international circumstances? Were foreign practices generally fully incorporated in other countries, or were they adapted, transformed and combined with local or national knowledge?
Theoretical and practical psychiatry
This approach allows us to examine the history of psychiatry on an "intellectual" as well as a "practical" level: it gives us the opportunity to look at how foreign knowledge was perceived by specific nations, since these transfers were never neutral and often created tensions amongst psychiatrists. International contacts might have reinforced certain national ideas while also creating shared goals and fostering agreement among the international psychiatric community. What was the national or international impact of transferring knowledge and practices? How was foreign knowledge received and interpreted? Did psychiatrists and their governments struggle with the appropriation of foreign knowledge? We can also consider how specific practices developed and evolved from a transnational perspective by examining the communication that took place among alienists and psychiatric/medical associations and identifying how and whether these practices were implemented in psychiatric institutions and hospitals. Finally, we can look at practical considerations, for example the logistics of international conferences and foreign travel.
By reflecting on interaction, negotiation, perception and practice from a transnational point of view we can see a wide range of subjects – treatments and therapeutics, asylums, medical instruments, psychiatric literature, disease patterns and classifications, conferences, psychiatrists and patients, travel, psychiatric associations and universities – in a new light. Moreover, asking these questions gives us a more transparent view of the context and complexity of transformations in psychiatry, challenging the "overgeneralisation" of certain trends and influences in the history of psychiatry and dissolving the black and white image of what lies at the "centre" and the "periphery" of psychiatric knowledge (Müller 2017). Instead of looking simply at the history of psychiatry in a particular country, we now examine the position of psychiatry in relation to other countries and its impact at local, national and international level.