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HIS3203 : Madness, Nerves and Narratives in Georgian Britain, c. 1714-1830

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Jonathan Andrews
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module offers the opportunity to study Georgian Britain, with a special focus on the history of madness and nervous disorders. It will assess medical and socio-cultural understandings, representations and treatments of mental disorders and how they changed. Students will gain an appreciation of the social, cultural and economic influences, as well as the professional and political ideologies, which shaped the history of madness, and medical and societal responses to madness. The module will raise issues and questions which continue to be pertinent in modern mental health contexts.

The aims of this module are:
1) To provide an in-depth study of the history of social, medical and legal responses to madness and nervous disorders in Britain (primarily focusing on England and, to a lesser degree, Scotland) during 1714-1830, appropriate to the standard required of Stage 3 students.
2) To provide an analytical assessment of medical and socio-cultural understandings, representations and treatments of mental disorders and how they changed in this period.
3) To familiarise students with contemporaries’ own accounts or narratives of their mental afflictions and treatment, and with the various methodological means available for analysing such narratives as historical evidence.
4) To articulate some of the key theories and explanations historians (and allied disciplines) have employed to study the history of madness and nervous disorder, and some of the key methodological approaches and issues pertinent to this area of analysis.
5) To offer an opportunity to acquire a sound general knowledge of this specialist subject, through i) wide, selective and critical reading in the relevant primary and secondary literature ii) seminar-based, peer-led, and tutor facilitated discussion, debate and oral presentation.
6) To develop the capacity for independent study.
7) To enhance students' analytical approaches to pertinent primary and secondary source materials appropriate to the standard required of Stage 3 students.

Outline Of Syllabus

Lecture materials will introduce key concepts and themes in relation to the module outline, with weekly seminars building upon this navigational framework.

Office hours drop-in sessions and timetabled surgeries will provide students with the opportunity to discuss all aspects of the module content, but will be mainly focused on reading, writing, presentational and referencing guidance, developing essay plans and gobbet practice.

Each weekly seminar will be devoted to studying primary (and some secondary) source material (in online Canvas or easily accessible format).

Examples of the topics likely to be explored are as follows:-

Introduction to the history, pre-history and historiography of madness in Georgian Britain
Being mad and melancholic in Georgian England: signs, symptoms, representations and prevailing/changing understandings
The ‘English Malady’ and the discovery of nervous disorders
Treating the mad and melancholic; dominant therapeutic approaches and their rationales
Confining the mad: the origins and extent of the shift towards institutional solutions to madness
The growth of the private mad-trade: private mad-houses and their regulation
Outside the madhouse: non-institutional responses to insanity
Narratives of madness and nervousness: sufferers’ own accounts of their mental afflictions/confinement
Madness and monarchy (embracing the madness of George III)
The Georgian State and the lunatic; legislating lunacy
A paradigm shift? the arrival of a ‘moral’ therapeutics

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials81:008:008 recorded lectures of 1-hour max during 8 weeks. Online. Contributes towards contact hours.
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion551:0055:00Assessment preparation
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading551:0055:00Set, recommended and further reading
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching102:0020:0010 x 2-hour seminars. PIP. Needs to be timetabled.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery22:305:00Online support via Zoom; advice on seminar prep., reading & assessments
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study571:0057:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The structured guided learning hours will combine pre-recorded lecture sessions (1-hour max) explaining key context, concepts and historiographical issues, with exercises intended to reinforce understanding through direct engagement with the sources discussed. These activities will inform the structured research and reading activities, which will allow students to use the knowledge acquired through the learning materials to produce their own responses and ideas to the material. These ideas will then be presented and discussed in small group teaching (seminars), encouraging independent learning, discussion, and debate, while also guiding students on how to approach primary sources and historiography in a critical and effective manner,

The combination of lectures, structured research/reading exercises (such as discussion boards) and seminars is designed to encourage an active and student-led approach to learning. Lectures are intended to introduce core themes, impart core knowledge and an outline of knowledge that students are expected to acquire by providing a guide to key reading. They will require students to practice note-taking and active and stimulate the development of these skills. Seminars encourage independent study and promote improvements in oral, interpersonal communication, problem-solving skills and adaptability.

Preparation for seminars will require students to undertake a programme of private reading, requiring good time management and personal responsibility for learning. Seminar preparation will require the student to read and analyse critically a selective range of literature available online or via Canvas.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1A752500 words (including footnotes but excluding bibliography)
Written exercise1M25750 words (excluding bibliography and footnotes) - primary source gobbet analysis/documentary commentary
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise1M750 words primary source gobbet (excluding biblio. and footnotes ) - analysis/documentary commentary
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The shorter written exercises will take place during the semester, and will focus on analysis and contextual framing of primary sources (set against key historiographical perspectives), allowing the accumulation of understanding and analytical skills enhancement, and the tracking and informing of student progress. The final essay will test both knowledge and understanding, and the students’ ability to synthesise and evaluate the themes studied during the module.

The essay and written exercises test acquisition of a clear general knowledge of the subject plus the ability to think and analyse sources, pertinent questions and issues; ability to select from and to apply both the general knowledge and detailed knowledge of aspects of the subject to new questions; and help to develop problem-solving skills, adaptability, independent research and the ability to write clearly and concisely.

Documentary commentary exercises develop and test knowledge and understanding of key primary texts set for the module; the ability to compare and contrast related source texts on a common subject; the ability to expound and criticize a textual extract lucidly, succinctly and with relevance in a relatively concise format.

Work submitted (formatively) during the delivery of the module forms a means of determining and enhancing student progress.

Summative work tests intended knowledge and skills outcomes, develops key skills in research, reading and writing.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending semester 1 only are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle. Where an exam is present, an alternative form of assessment will be set and where coursework is present, an alternative deadline will be set. Details of the alternative assessment will be provided by the module leader.

Reading Lists