Head to Head: Faces, Physiognomy and Phrenology

During the month of May, ‘Face to Face: Stories from the Asylum’ has also been on display in a smaller format in two Scottish prisons, Low Moss and Barlinnie, and Rab was able to visit the prisons and give a talk about the exhibition and the history of mental health care in the nineteenth century.  Here he talks about his experience of visiting HMP Barlinnie.

Last month I visited Her Majesty’s Prison Barlinnie at the invitation of Fife College, which provides educational facilities for all 13 Scottish Prison Service institutions. I gave a talk that started with a discussion of the ‘Face to Face’ exhibition, which has been on display at Barlinnie and also at Low Moss.  But I added in some of the 19th century ‘scientific’ background about judging character and intellect through the appearance of the face (physiognomy) and skull (phrenology). Thus my sub-title was: ‘Head to Head’ (invite me to give the talk and you’ll see why that is important). These approaches to understanding both normal and abnormal psychology flourished in the 19th century and were very popular. Even Queen Victoria took her children to a phrenologist to have their characters ‘read’.

Barlinnie is a forbidding place with a tough reputation, reinforced by a recent TV documentary about life behind bars. That programme focused on the crimes inmates had committed, the problem of drug misuse, the relations between staff and prisoners, and between prisoners themselves. Just as ‘Face to Face’ aims to represents the patients featured in the exhibition as people with mental health issues rather than ‘lunatics’, I did not ask about the offences for which the men who came to my talk had been imprisoned. And only incidentally did I pick up on the damaged lives and minds of those who sat in front of me.

My audience was polite and appreciative, with plenty to say about the exhibition and talk, and about themselves; they were engaged, but also independent in their approach. Some were quieter than others, but that is true of any teaching situation. The hour and a half flew by. I only remembered where I was when a prison officer opened the door to the classroom and announced that the class was over.

I wish I could have spent longer teasing out some of the points about experiences of mental disorder and its many different forms, both among the people of the past and some members of my audience. Maybe I can do that at the other Scottish prisons where I have been invited to speak during the summer. Meanwhile, I hope my talk and our discussion helped the audience use the lessons of history, to become more aware of mental health issues, both in themselves and others

Prof Rab Houston, is professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and project leader for ‘Promoting mental health through the lessons of history’.  If you would be interested in hosting the smaller version of the exhibition, further information and contact details are available here.

Face to Face: Stories from the Asylum is still on display at the University of Dundee, Tower Foyer Gallery, University of Dundee, DD1 4HN, until June 9.

Face to Face: SPS Learning and Skills

During the month of May, ‘Face to Face: Stories from the Asylum’ will also be on display in two Scottish prisons: Low Moss and Barlinnie. Low Moss is a newly built prison in north Glasgow and has about 750 adult male inmates, serving either short or long term sentences.  Barlinnie is the largest prison in Scotland holding about 1500 prisoners.

The exhibition is being displayed in these venues in association with Fife College.  Last year, the college was awarded the contract to provide learning and skills training to all 13 Scottish Prison Service establishments.  During May, the college is running an initiative running in west central Scotland, aimed at increasing awareness of mental health issues, and building confidence and resilience.

Prof Rab Houston, project lead for the wider project ‘Promoting mental health through the lessons of history’  will deliver talks at both prisons, about the exhibition and about ‘Promoting Mental Health’.

The exhibitions at Low Moss and Barlinne will only be available for prisoners and staff and not open to the public, but you can still see the exhibition at the University of Dundee until June 9.  In addition, Rab is in the process of arranging other venues for the exhibition and would be happy to discuss the possibilities with potential hosts. Further information about hosting the exhibition is available here.

Out of Our Minds – A Creative Writing Workshop

We are pleased to present a creative life writing workshop in association with the exhibition.

Drawing inspiration from the patient stories featured in the exhibition, Out of Our Minds will explore memory and contemporary perspectives on mental health.  The workshop will be facilitated by award-winning teacher of memoir and creative non-fiction, Josie Jules Andrews (School of Humanities, University of Dundee).

The event takes place Saturday 26 May 2018 from 2 – 4 pm, starting in the Tower Foyer Gallery, Tower Building, University of Dundee, Nethergate, Dundee DD1 4HN.

The workshop is free but booking is essential – please reserve your place through Eventbrite


A Meeting of Minds – Mental Health Past and Present

How can looking at examples from the past help us to understand mental health issues today? Historians and health professionals meet to explore the lessons we can learn from looking at psychiatry’s history.

Speakers include Professor Rab Houston (Historian, University of St Andrews), Morag Allan Campbell (PhD student and curator of the exhibition), Dr Malcolm Kinnear (Psychiatrist, NHS Tayside), Jacqueline Eccles (Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing, University of Dundee) and Caroline Brown (Archivist, University of Dundee).

Tue 10 April 2018 17:30 – 18:30 BST
Baxter room 1.36, Tower Building, University of Dundee, Dundee DD1 4HN

This event is free but please register your interest in Eventbrite.

Exhibition open!

Face to Face: Stories from the Asylum has now been launched!

We’ve had an exciting couple of days with lots of press coverage, including a front page slot in the Courier and a piece on STV news.

The exhibition is in place in the Tower Foyer Gallery at the University of Dundee, Perth Road, Dundee, until June 9, Mondays to Fridays from 09:30 till 19:00 and Saturdays from 13:00 till 17:00. Admission to the exhibition is free.

Further events in connection with the exhibition are being planned and details will be posted on this website and on our Facebook page when available.

Face to Face with an audience

Morag Allan Campbell presents the stories of the women of the asylum as part of Dundee Women’s Festival 2018
Photo: UoD Archive Services

With just over a week to go until the exhibition goes on display at Dundee, we have already held our first event in connection with the project.

Organised in connection with this year’s Dundee Women’s Festival, Face to Face: Women and the Asylum  took place on Monday evening, March 12th, in the D’Arcy Thompson Lecture Theatre in the Tower Building, University of Dundee.  Having spent some time researching and curating the exhibition, this was a great opportunity to talk about the project, and to give more information on the women featured in the exhibition.

The event was very well attended and members of the audience seemed highly engaged with the topic, asking many interesting and varied questions, about the stories of the women themselves and also more generally about the experiences of women in asylums and psychiatric institutions.  Many also contributed their own thoughts and opinions.

Further events are planned in connection with the exhibition – details will be posted here on our website and on our Facebook page when finalised.

Face to Face: Women and the Asylum

Dundee Women's Festival 2018 logo
Dundee Women’s Festival 2018 runs from Sunday 4th March until Saturday 17th March.

We are pleased to be taking part in this year’s Dundee’s Women’s Festival.

Face to Face – Women and the Asylum will take a closer look at the lives of the women included in the exhibition.  In a short talk followed by a general discussion, we will look at the pathways that took these women to the asylum, uncovering their lived experiences within the institution and considering what messages for the future can be gained from an understanding of health care for the mentally ill in the past.

Join us at the University of Dundee on March 12th from 5:30pm until 6:45pm.  The event will take place in the D’Arcy Thompson Lecture Theatre in the Tower Building, Perth Road.


University of Dundee Events Page

New mini series on colonial psychiatry

As followers of the History of Psychiatry since 1500 might already know, the first two series of podcasts are being used around the world by medical professionals to broaden their perspectives, for teaching in a variety of locations, and by a wide range of interested people – in particular, the College of Medicine in the University of Malawi is using them to train local psychiatrists in a part of the world which has very few.

Europe has 100 psychiatrists for every million people whereas sub-Saharan Africa has less than 1 per million.

There are strong similarities between a country like Malawi and Britain two or three centuries ago. With few specialists, people used a wide variety of therapies such as folk remedies and even witch doctors. When those with serious mental disorders come to the attention of psychiatrists in Malawi, they have usually been suffering for much longer than is the case in the developed world. Again, that is like the past, when there were very few effective chemical treatments and when people wore the appearance (and made the sounds) of madness much more openly.

A special four-part mini-series on colonial psychiatry, concentrating on Anglophone southern and eastern Africa between the 1880s and 1960s, launches on Tuesday 23 January. This area covers the geographical and cultural area in which Malawi is located. Between 1891 and 1964, when it became independent, Malawi was the British Protectorate of Nyasaland.

The mini-series on colonial psychiatry will run for four weeks, slotting in between Series 2 and Series 3 of the History of Psychiatry podcasts, and will be available on SoundCloud.