HIST 2721 History of Mental Health and Mental Illness in the United States

HIST 2721 History of Mental Health and Mental Illness in the United States (also AMST 2722, BSOC 2721, STS 2721) (HA-AS, HST-AS, SCD-AS) (HNA)

Tuesday and Thursday: 11:25-12:40 plus discussions

Professor Stephen Vider

This course examines the history of mental illness—its conception and treatment—in the United States, from the early 1800s to the present, focusing on four major questions: (1) How have understandings of mental illness been developed and deployed by psychologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and social workers, and how have those understandings varied across time and place? (2) How have understandings and treatments of mental illness shaped, and been shaped by, conceptions of race, class, gender, and sexuality? (3) In what ways have treatment of mental illness and “social deviance” operated as a form of social control? (4) How do conceptions of mental illness come to circulate in popular culture and everyday life? Pairing historical scholarship with autobiographical writing and case studies from the 1800s to the present, the course moves chronologically in order to track, and draw connections between, a wide range of movements within American psychological and social welfare history, including the creation and closing of mental hospitals, the pathologization of racial, gender, and sexual difference, psychopharmacology, anti-psychiatry, and the politics of diagnosis.


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Image credit: Phrenological Journal, September 1850, University of North Texas Libraries.