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University College for Interdisciplinary Learning

Madness and Society in the Modern Age

Course Unit Code

UCIL30832 (10 Credits)

UCIL30332 (20 Credits)

Course Unit Details

  • Level 3
  • Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine


This unit introduces you to the social, cultural, intellectual and institutional history of madness, psychiatry and mental health. Through lectures, interactive workshops and reading of a combination of primary sources and secondary analyses, you will gain an appreciation of:

  • How madness has been understood, by experts and by everyday people
  • How madness has been managed, socially and institutionally
  • How science, medicine, and culture interact in shaping responses to madness

Our focus is primarily on the period from 1780 to the present, and primarily on the UK, but with some discussion of Western Europe and North America.


The unit explores the history of mental health and insanity from the late eighteenth century to the present. It examines how insanity has been understood, treated and represented within larger social, cultural, and intellectual frameworks. It also relates changing ideas of and approaches to mental illness, health and functioning to larger questions in the history of the medical and biological sciences.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, you will be able to:

  • Identify historical approaches to medical thinking and practice
  • Describe how approaches to madness changed from 1780 onwards, including changing definitions of both mental health and insanity
  • Analyse historians' arguments, through exploration of primary sources and historical data
  • Contribute to informed group discussions and debate, including presenting your own arguments effectively
  • Write a short, structured report/essay combining a range of viewpoints

In addition, for 20 credits:

  • Research and write a review essay incorporating both primary sources and secondary literature, and integrating historical medical and social contexts


Topics covered in previous years:

  • The Birth of the Asylum
  • The Expansion of the Asylum
  • Theorising Insanity: Minds and Bodies
  • Gender, Madness and Society
  • Race, Madness and Colonial Psychiatry
  • Freud, Psychoanalysis and Culture
  • Shell Shock, Psychiatry and War
  • The Brain, the Body and the Mind
  • Therapy and the Post-war Institution
  • The Psychiatrisation of Everyday Life

All required readings are available electronically. In addition to required readings, you will be provided with lists of suggested further readings, designed to help you with your essay research, as well as links to audio and video documentaries.


10 Credits

  1. 1000 word coursework essay (50%)
  2. Coursework, format to be confirmed (50%)

20 Credits

  1. 1000 word coursework essay (25%)
  2. Coursework, format to be confirmed (25%)
  3. 3000 word project report (50%)


UCIL units are designed to be accessible to undergraduate students from all disciplines.

UCIL units are credit-bearing and it is not possible to audit UCIL units or take them for additional/extra credits. You must enrol following the standard procedure for your School when adding units outside of your home School.

If you are not sure if you are able to enrol on UCIL units you should contact your School Undergraduate office. You may wish to contact your programme director if your programme does not currently allow you to take a UCIL unit.

You can also contact the UCIL office if you have any questions.

This unit is also available with a different course unit code. To take a UCIL unit you must choose the unit with a UCIL prefix.

Teaching Staff

Carsten Timmerman

Teaching and Learning Methods

  • 12 x 1 hour online lectures
  • 12 x 1 hour face-to-face seminars

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