Making Sense of Madness: Mental Disorders and the Practices of Case History Writing in the Early Nineteenth Century
Eötvös Loránd University
The article focuses on interpretations of madness in early nineteenth-century Hungary medical practice from a comparative perspective. By relying on the methodological approach of the anthropology of writing and the analytical considerations offered by Michel Foucault’s 1973–1974 lectures on Psychiatric Power, the article discusses the formalized and standardized practices of case history writing. It draws on sources from the teaching clinics at the universities of Pest and Edinburgh, as well as the largest mental asylums in the Habsburg Monarchy in Vienna (est. 1784) and Prague (est. 1790), and the ideal type of mental asylums at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the York Retreat (est. 1796). In doing so, an attempt is made to reconstruct both the physicians’ gaze and (to a certain extent) the patients’ view, and by examining the therapeutical regime of each hospital and its correlations with the institutional background, uncover whether madness was perceived as a pathological somatic or psychological state in the medical practice of these institutions. This is in and of itself a fundamental question if we seek to understand changing attitudes towards the mad and their curability in a period of transition from a “world without psychiatry” to a “world of psychiatry,” when specialized care was still not an option for many, especially in the East Central European region.
Keywords: history of psychiatry, case history, medical gaze, clinical practice, medical writing