University of Calgary, USA
Title: Resisting erasure – the voices of patients in the history of psychiatry
Biography: Clement Martini
It’s my intention to chronicle the events leading to the 1796 founding of the seminal psychiatric facility, the Retreat, and the subsequent events that spurred the 1814 British parliamentary inquiry into asylums and on the basis of this research to create a historical novel. Employing materials drawn from the letters, journals, diaries and case notes of those working at and residing in the Retreat and the York Lunatic Asylum, as well as additional data collected from the archives of other contemporary asylums, including letters and journal entries of patients, I will reconstruct a plausible narrative that forefronts the lives and perspectives of those patients in care. This project, once completed, will correct a significant historical lapse, both in the material sense of providing information that is largely unrecognized, as well as in terms of voicing a perspective that is sadly absent. In every narrative of the Retreat, there is an element that is almost entirely missing from the historical record, and that is the perspective of the patient. What information exists about the Retreat, privileges the creator of the caregiving facility, William Tuke, and all but ignores patients except by representing them as the fortunate recipients of his attention. This tendency – to favor the perceptions of the institutional founders, doctors and medical experts of the time over those suffering from a mental illness - is true of the vast majority of what passes for a recorded history of mental illness and its treatment.