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Volume 12: Mental Health Week – Foreword

For this edition of New Histories, we wanted to provide a space for students to discuss mental health throughout history, and so many have done so brilliantly. While there has no doubt been much disruption due to the impact of COVID-19, it is great to see so many students engaging with their historical interests and bringing them to you! 

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“I fear I am not in my perfect mind”: Mental health and the perception of madness in Shakespearian England

By Hannah McCann

In Shakespeare’s plays, ‘madness’ plagues many of the characters. It is thought that the work of John Hall, a physician and Shakespeare’s son-in-law, influenced the playwright’s depiction of mental illness to some degree. 

Physicians could explain some mental illnesses by drawing on ancient ideas. The concept of the four humours, created by Hippocrates and Galen, was extremely influential in shaping theories around mental illnesses. In the 16th and 17th century, they believed that the body and the mind were both connected. The mind did not cause ‘madness’ but was a symptom of a physical ailment. In The Anatomy of Melancholy from 1621, Robert Burton identified the illness of ‘melancholy’, which we would label as depression. He described it as a ‘fear’ and ‘despair’ that emerged without an external cause.  He suggested that ‘melancholy’ was caused when one of the four humours, black bile, was out of balance with the others. Shakespeare would often create characters that had symptoms of depression, such as Hamlet and Romeo, with another one stating that “I know not why I am so sad.”

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Ghosts of the Past – Our emotional connection to history

By Georgie Todd

When we think of ‘history’ there are probably two images that pop into our minds: one of a grey-haired, old professors hunched over a dusty tomb of ancient words, or one of grand manor houses and castles, high ceilings and banquets fit for kings and queens. It is this split between ideas of history, between academic and social influences, that defines and shapes how we engage with our past, and how our past shapes us.

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The Tragic Plague of Eyam: a history more fiction than fact?

By Ethan Battison

‘The desolation of Eyam by the plague, in years 1665 and 1666’, wrote the Victorian William Wood, ‘has no parallel; not even that of the “Black Death” of the fourteenth century’. According to Wood, it was the severity of the scourge in Eyam, being ‘more dreadful and fatal … than of any other pestilence hitherto recorded’, that has guaranteed its place within the history books. Nowadays, the Derbyshire village is at the epicentre of Britain’s plague heritage. 

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Lobotomy, Insulin Coma Therapy, Electroshock & Cardiazol: The Miracle Cures?

By Aggi Yates

In 1936, António Egas Moniz proposed the Lobotomy, a form of brain surgery that physicians believed would provide a cure for the baffling condition of schizophrenia. According to a reputable medical journal, The Lancet, a ‘long hollow needle… to which is attached a loop of strong wire’ was inserted into the brain and blindly rotated to ‘cut a core of white substance’ in the prefrontal cortex. This description causes extreme discomfort for the modern-day reader. With what we know today, it is clear that the only thing this surgery achieved was extensive brain damage in patients. For contemporaries, however, this was considered an innovative, miracle cure. In fact, the treatment was so acclaimed, it won Egas Moniz a Nobel Prize in 1949, thirteen years after his first conception of the idea. 

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The Idiots, Insane and Mad: How projections of mental illness in Indian lunatic asylums protected British imperialism.

By Shaye Mistry

It becomes an almost impossible task to single out how colonial Britain saw mental health in a period of high colonialism. In the contemporary, however,  psychiatric science was by its very nature a by-product of colonialism. In India, traditional methods of healing and dealing with madness were common and available to the British upon their arrival. Ignorance in imperialism became apparent as the British brought conceptions such as the sequestration of the insane, taking place immediately in the late 18th Century.

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The Importance of Teaching Colonial History to Tackle Contemporary Racism

By Rebecca Mason

The Holocaust has been remembered in history as one of the most devastating atrocities on behalf of humanity. The large-scale and centrally coordinated genocidal attack on minority groups, mostly constituting of Jews, possesses the largest magnitude of deaths in history. Yet, the many other acts of genocides that were of consistent occurrence throughout the twentieth century cannot be overlooked. As Robert Melson, an author in the field of genocide studies and a holocaust survivor himself stated, ‘I would suggest that if the Holocaust is not compared to past and contemporary instances of genocide, its message and significance will wither’. This reinforces that the devastation caused by genocidal attacks on specific populations is not solely an issue for the victims of the system, but instead an assault on humanity as a whole. Moreover, Melson asserts the importance of identifying parallels between the holocaust to other examples of genocide; in this instance, I will draw comparisons from the holocaust to the atrocities that the British Empire itself was accountable for, both directly and indirectly. 

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Thomas Howard 3rd Earl of Effingham: Yorkshire and the United States

By Thomas W. B. Hill

Anyone who has travelled by train from Sheffield to Leeds may have found themselves wondering why the Rotherham United stadium, which is right next to the tracks, is called “New York Stadium” some three thousand miles away from the American city. The story behind that involves the town’s industrial past and the manufacturing of New York’s fire hydrants. However, this is not Rotherham’s only connection with a north east American city, as a short walk up hill from the stadium will find you at the curiously named Boston Castle. Built by a man that the United States second first lady, Abigail Adams, once wrote was “too well remembered by America” and thus needed no explanation of who he was in her correspondence. This is how a small building in Rotherham, South Yorkshire came to be named after a city in Massachusetts, and how its original owner, Sir Thomas Howard 3rd Earl of Effingham, became a respected name amongst the founding fathers of the United States.

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A Recent History of Institutional Racism in British Mental Health Services

By Sam Gilder

“In this country in fifteen or twenty years time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.”

Those were the words of Conservative MP Enoch Powell on 20th April 1968. His ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech contained criticism of the proposed Race Relations bill of the same year, which aimed to give equal access to healthcare for immigrants from the Commonwealth. He prodded at anxieties already existent in the conscience of the British public since the influx of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) immigration at the start of the decade.

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Shell Shock: The First World War, masculinity and mental health

By Eleanor Stokes

The First World War commenced during the summer of 1914 as a result of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Six months into the international conflict the term ‘shell shock’ first appeared in the medical journal The Lancet. Although soldiers themselves had utilized the phrase, Captain Charles Myers of the Royal Army Medical Corps was the first medical professional to publicly coin ‘shell shock’. Myers had been appointed by the British Army to form a sounder understanding of the unprecedented phenomenon that was in some cases rendering soldiers incapacitated.

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