This weekend’s seminar at Bethlem Museum of the Mind

Rab talks about his experience of taking part in a seminar at Bethlem Museum of the Mind

When I visited Bethlem Museum of the Mind earlier this year I was lucky enough to be invited by the archivist, Colin Gale, to talk to the monthly seminar, run under the auspices of Bethlem Royal Hospital, about my project ‘Improving Modern Mental Health through the Lessons of History’.

If you have not visited the museum it is part of a leafy ‘cottage hospital’ style complex at Beckenham in Kent, opened around 1930. The hospital itself is part of South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, which works closely with the Institute of Psychiatry. The Museum itself is excellent: informative and thought provoking.

The seminar took place at the weekend (Saturday August 5th). I talked about why I did the podcasts and my plans for future ones. I outlined who is using them and how, bringing out the difference they have made outside the realms of academia. And I explained the future I hope the project will take: travelling photograph explanations of Victorian asylum patients, dramatic performances in schools, and participation in science festivals.

The audience for my talk comprised a lively and interesting cross section of healthcare professionals, patients, family, and those with historical and medical interests. Some arrived early so I was able to talk to people both before and after.

It is always particularly valuable to engage with those from outside academia, because they ask very different questions, often ‘big’ and challenging – whereas fellow historians tend to focus on specifics. The talk reminded me what a huge range of disciplines and interests come under the umbrella of mental health and its history: medicine, of course, but also philosophy, sociology, politics, economics, and anthropology.

I can talk to any interested body or group about my work, if you would like to invite me – contact details are on my university profile page.

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