Perceptions of Madness

Sarah K. Hitchen, PhD student Manchester Metropolitan University

For many people with schizophrenia and other serious mental disorders, the people who initially identify that something is wrong are not medics, but family members.[1] A quick internet search reveals numerous websites and fact sheets providing information and advice for family and friends who are concerned that a loved one has developed a serious mental illness.[2] We can trace the idea that human beings instinctively recognise mental disorder in others back to the early modern period. In the seventeenth-century, the perceptions of friends and family were as important in identifying mental illness as they are today. An excellent example of this can be found in the autobiographical writings of Oxfordshire gentlewoman, Dionys Fitzherbert (c.1580 – c.1641)

A surgery where all fantasy and follies are purged, https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/298391, CCBY 4.0

Between 1608 and 1610, Dionys described an extended period of significant emotional and psychic distress.  She writes of an hallucination, imagining that ‘Charterhouse Yard … should flow with the matter that came out of my mouth, and did assuredly think all the bed and clothes were as wet with it as might be’.[4] She suffered delusions in which she believed that she was not her parents’ child, but was the long dead-sister of a friend.[5] She encountered suicidal thoughts and at the same time she feared that her family would have her put to death.[6] Her thoughts were confused and fractured. Just like many people who suffer from severe mental illness today, Fitzherbert did not recognise that she was unwell. In fact, she believed that she was suffering from a spiritual affliction.[7] Her family and friends, however, were frightened by her behaviour, and believing her to be mentally ill placed her in the care of doctors.

human beings instinctively recognise mental disorder in others

But how did Fitzherbert’s family know she was mentally ill? After all, as Kate Hodgkin tells us, the seventeenth century was a time during which there was only a fine line between madness and religious despair.[8] It was the family’s perception of Fitzherbert’s behaviour that was key. Knowing her as well as they did, Fitzherbert’s relatives were able to identify her mental illness because they identified Dionys’s thoughts and behaviours as ‘bizarre’. In 1958 psychiatrist H. C. Rumke coined the phrase the ‘praecox feeling’, or the ‘praecox experience’, which referred to ‘a characteristic feeling of bizarreness experienced by a psychiatrist while encountering a person with schizophrenia’. [9] Although never formally made part of diagnosis, Rumke argued that the ‘praecox feeling’ was a central part of the diagnostic experience and this notion was echoed by psychiatrists throughout Europe during the twentieth century.[10] This feeling of bizarreness was also experienced by the non-medically trained. In the 1960’s psychiatrist Wilhelm Mayer-Gross said that the words ‘bizarre’, ‘queer’ and ‘absurd’ were often used to convey ‘the reaction of the non-schizophrenic towards the patient’.[11] Although use of the ‘praecox feeling’, has declined as a diagnostic element, it is still referred to by psychiatrists today, some of whom believe it to be ‘a real determinant of medical decision making in schizophrenia’.[12]

In a Lunatic Asylum, T.Bowes (1735). Wellcome Collection CC BY 4.0

Is this the feeling that Dionys Fitzherbert’s relatives experienced? If so the idea that human beings instinctively know when a person is suffering severe psychic distress, and the way that it seemingly transcends space and time provides us with a clear link between perceptions of madness in the past and modern experiences of mental illness.

This research is part of a PhD funded by the North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership (NWCDTP) 


[1] Kim Runkle, ‘Psychosis: Responding To A Loved One In The Face Of Uncertainty’, Nami.Org, 2019 <https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/June-2019/Psychosis-Responding-to-a-Loved-One-in-the-Face-of-Uncertainty&gt; [Accessed 12 October 2021].

[2] ‘Are You Worried About Someone’s Mental Health? Fact Sheet’, Mindcharity.Co.Uk, 2011 <https://www.mindcharity.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/are_you_worried_about_someones_mental_health_factsheet.pdf&gt; [Accessed 12 October 2021], ‘Living With – Schizophrenia’, Nhs.Uk, 2021 <https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/schizophrenia/living-with/&gt; [Accessed 12 October 2021], ‘Mental Illness – Family And Friends – Better Health Channel, Betterhealth.Vic.Gov.Au, 2019 <https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/mental-illness-family-and-friends&gt; [Accessed 14 October 2021].

[3] Unknown author Le médecin guarissant Phantasie [digital image] <https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/298391&gt; [Accessed 12 October 2021].

[4] David Booy, Personal Disclosures: An Anthology Of Self-Writings From The Seventeenth Century (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002), p. 309.

[5] Booy, Personal Disclosures, p. 310.

[6] Booy, Personal Disclosures, pp. 311-312.

[7] Kate Hodgkin, ‘Fitzherbert, Dionys (C.1580-C.1641)’, ODNB, 2019 <https://doi-org.mmu.idm.oclc.org/10.1093/odnb/9780198614128.013.112759&gt; [Accessed 15 June 2021].

[8] Katharine Hodgkin, Women, Madness And Sin In Early Modern England: The Autobiographical Writings Of Dionys Fitzherbert (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), p. 58.

[9] Tudi Gozé and others, ‘Reassessing ‘Praecox Feeling’ In Diagnostic Decision Making In Schizophrenia: A Critical Review’, Schizophrenia Bulletin, 45.5 (2018), p. 966.

[10] J. Parnas, ‘A Disappearing Heritage: The Clinical Core Of Schizophrenia’, Schizophrenia Bulletin, 37.6 (2011), p. 1125.

[11] Wilhelm Mayer-Gross, Martin Roth and Eliot Slater, Clinical Psychiatry, 3rd edn (London: Baillière, Tindall & Cassell, 1969), p. 276.

[12] Gozé et al, ‘Reassessing’, p. 966.

Episode 8 – Disability History and the Disabled Peoples’ Archive: Dr Rosamund Oates, Lorna Young, and Siobhan O’Connor

UK Disability History Month takes place during November and December. We are delighted to be marking it with our involvement in four public lectures, and by participating in the International Day of Disabled People’s event on 3 December at Manchester Central Library.

During the latest episode we welcomed Lorna Young, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion manager at Manchester City Council, Siobhan O’Connor, Service Development Coordinator at Manchester Libraries, and Dr Rosamund Oates, Reader in the History Research Centre. Have a listen to our discussion on disabled people’s history and the disabled people’s archive.

The fantastic comics that are mentioned in the podcast can be accessed here and here.

Professor Natan Meir, Sam Johnson Memorial Lecture 2021: Drafting the Undesirables: Jewish Conscription to the Imperial Russian Military under Nicholas I – 15 December 2021

This year’s Sam Johnson Memorial Lecture will be delivered by Professor Natan Meir on 15 December, 5pm.

In 1827, Nicholas I signed a draft decree requiring Jewish communities to select recruits for twenty-five-year terms of service in the tsarist army. Under this brutal conscription regime, some Jewish communal leaders attempted to draw recruits solely from among socially marginal people such as beggars and the religiously lax or drafted poor orphans as so-called voluntary substitutes for the sons of prosperous families.

This talk examines this tragic chapter in East European Jewish history through the lens of archival documents and Yiddish folksongs.

Natan M. Meir is the Lorry I. Lokey Professor of Judaic Studies in the Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies at Portland State University. A scholar of the social, cultural, and religious history of East European Jewry, he is the author of Kiev, Jewish Metropolis: A History, 1859-1914 (2010) and Stepchildren of the Shtetl: The Destitute, Disabled, and Mad of Jewish Eastern Europe, 1800-1939 (2020). He also serves as a museum consultant and leads study tours of Eastern Europe with Ayelet Tours.

For questions or further information pleas contact:

Professor Catherine Fletcher – catherine.fletcher@mmu.ac.uk or Haseeb Khan – mohammed.khan@mmu.ac.uk

The Sam Johnson memorial lecture takes place each year in commemoration of our late colleague, Sam Johnson.

Sign up here.

Episode 7 – The Legendary 1945 Manchester Pan African Congress: Professor Ola Uduku, Dr Kai Syng Tan, and Dr Marie Molloy

Plaque commemorating fifth Pan African Congress Conference, Courtesy of By KGGuewa https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6930560

The Pan African Congress of 1945 took place in Chorlton-on-Medlock Town Hall, now a Manchester Metropolitan University Building. It was a legendary conference, attracting leaders from future African independence movements. In 2020, a group came together, and put on an incredible series of events to mark the 75th anniversary of the congress. We were delighted to hear from Ola, Kai, and Marie who were instrumental in organising PAC75.

Delegates to the Fifth Pan-African Congress, Manchester. Copyright Manchester Archives Plus.

Check out the PAC75 Youtube channel where you can access many of the great events that took place.

Access the episode of Spotify.

Dr Kathryn Hurlock, Disability History Month: Miraculous Cures and Pilgrimage in Manchester – 10 November 2021

Dr Hurlock will deliver a lecture on 10 November 2021, 6pm.

This lecture examines the practice of pilgrimage in Manchester and the North-West in the 18th and 19th centuries, showing how people sought miracle cures for a range of illnesses and impairments.

Dr Kathryn Hurlock is a Reader in History at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is an expert in both pilgrimage and historical experiences of disability. Her recent publications include Medieval Welsh Pilgrimage (2018) and Crusading and Ideas of the Holy Land (2021).

This is part of a series of lectures taking place during UK Disability History Month.

Sign up here.

For further information or questions please contact Dr Rosamund Oates – r.oates@mmu.ac.uk or Haseeb Khan – mohammed.khan@mmu.ac.uk


		Disability History Month: Miraculous Cures and Pilgrimage in Manchester image

		Disability History Month: Miraculous Cures and Pilgrimage in Manchester image

Heritage Open Days: The Richard Roberts Archive

It was great to hear about the Richard Roberts Archive, and their experience at the Heritage Open Day in September. Angie Thompson of the archive tells us about the weekend.

The Richard Roberts Archive is a specialist advertising archive in Stockport which houses extensive collections of printed advertising from the last 100+ years. Its collections span a wide variety of industries and subjects, motoring and transportation being a key interest. Presented with a comfortable home-from-home reading room it is a hidden gem for public and social history researchers.

On Saturday 10th and Monday 13th of September, the archive took part in a national history festival backed by the National Trust called “Heritage Open Days”. This annual event is free to enter and is advertised via their website http://www.heritageopendays.org.uk. The requirements for inclusion are simply that the venue is of historical or heritage interest and completely free to attend.

Open Day Visitors

It was decided that two workshops would be offered on Saturday and a talk be offered on the Monday open evening. The workshops were run by Richard Roberts and Dr Craig Horner. Both offered a fascinating opportunity to learn more about the timeline of printed advertising and how to use the archive for research purposes. The talk given at the open evening was by historian and author Peter Moss and was about how he selected advertisements from the archive for a book on Rolls-Royce promotion. All were well received by the many people who attended the events.

The trustees of the Richard Roberts Archive

In addition to the workshops, a café was organised by Angie Thompson which raised much-needed funds to install new lighting between the archive stacks. This was made possible by a generous donation of serving equipment by Manchester Metropolitan University’s catering team and the baking skills of trustees Richard and Angie.

The Hive Cafe

The event was a great opportunity to welcome visitors to the archive, to talk about the items within our collections and discuss volunteer opportunities. The archive will be taking what was learned from this year’s event and applied it to next year.

You could be involved too. The archive is always looking for volunteers to assist with the running of the archive, both day-to-day and for special one-off events such as the Heritage Open Days event. Get in touch today to discuss how you can get involved.

We recorded a podcast episode with Richard Roberts earlier in the year which you can listen to here. Learn more about their work and get in touch with them.

Give the archive a follow on twitter.

Eating Together in the 16th and 17th Centuries: Early Modern Commensality

by Anna Fielding, Postgraduate Researcher, Manchester Metropolitan University and the National Trust

When I describe to people what my PhD is about, I often start by saying it is on ‘olden day dinner parties’. This is not far from the truth. In reality, my work looks at gentry commensality in Lancashire and Cheshire between the start of the Reformation in England to just after the Restoration of Charles II to the throne. Knowing the context and changes in the decades between the 1530s and 1660s, the picture becomes a lot more complex. My research therefore is not solely concerned with what people ate during this period, though this is fascinating in and of itself, but the spaces and society such meals took place within. Sources such as household accounts, diaries, surviving menus, inventories, correspondence and surviving archaeological finds allow me to build up the layers of commensal gatherings in the north west region during the early modern period. These are further supported by published works on dietary regimens, the body, domestic piety, recipe collections, and also the wealth of surviving early modern material culture and properties in Lancashire and Cheshire. Three such properties are Little Moreton Hall near Congleton in Cheshire, Speke Hall near Liverpool, and Rufford Old Hall between Southport and Chorley in Lancashire. All three of these properties are owned and interpreted by the National Trust. I am very lucky to have been the recipient of a collaborative doctoral award from MMU and the National Trust and so work in partnership with the Trust to provide in depth research into the Moreton, Norris, and Hesketh families who lived in the three halls around 500-350 years ago. My PhD includes not just research into early modern commensality but also insights into how such research can be used in public history and heritage presentations.

The great hall at Little Moreton with surviving dinner table (courtesy of NT Images)

Food and the sharing of it with others is a prism through which I explore what was happening to gentry families centuries ago and allows a way into a society where religion, politics, manners, gender, and medical understandings of the body and the emotions were very present around communal tables. These sat alongside the complex dishes of the 16th and 17th centuries. When a family member or invited guest sat down to eat in early modern homes there were a myriad of elements to consider, process, and manage. Different food represented different things to Catholics and Protestants, on a theoretical or theological level at least; tableware contained various depictions of Biblical scenes, text from the Bible, or warnings about the dangerous seductions of earthly pleasures; decorative schemes were designed to convey certain messages or even evoke particular emotions, whether these were about piety and dietary moderation or relaxed feelings promoted by the calming greens of great hall fabrics and soft furnishings. In all these elements were the perceived dangers of conversion attempts, the relaxing of morals and religions or political convictions, and the bodily and mental threats of corruption or manipulating influences through the senses, food and drink consumed, or the surrounding intoxicating atmospheres of commensality. Yet, all these aspects of early modern commensality were also designed to smooth over difference around the table and foster a close connection between members of the north west gentry through reciprocal cycles of hospitality, gifts and entertainments.

The table in the great parlour at Little Moreton, used for more intimate meals and sweet banquets (Anna Fielding)
The oak ornamental in the great parlour at Speke, the setting for meals with close family and friends (courtesy of NT images)
Close up of the oak overmantel at Speke, showing William Norris (1501-68) and his two wives. Ellen Bulkeley, shown with rosary, and later Anne Myddleton (courtesy of NT Images);

Dinner occasions were used by all members of the north west gentry to help them adapt to the changes in society throughout the Reformation and the changing fashions of sociability. Catholic families like the Norrises of Speke and the Heskeths of Rufford used commensality to forge new identities as ideal gentry hosts, providing a scholarly and intellectual ‘salon’-style atmosphere in which to dine and discuss the changing world around them amid musicians, the latest fashions in dining and décor, games, and even plays staged in their dining halls. The hospitality and entertainments they offered guests allowed them to stay relevant and connected despite their Catholic faith. Other families, like the Protestant Moretons of Little Moreton Hall, also used commensality to shift their spheres of influence and improve their social standing by moving beyond the boundaries of Cheshire, taking on board new trends in socialising and hospitality through the travels and experiences of young sons in London and Italy, as well as further afield in the colonial travels of sons and nephews in the East Indies and New World. For the Moretons, this meant being able to build a new profile as a well-connected and well-informed gentry family which other members of the county elite wanted to be acquainted with socially. Their international connections saw them adopting new trends in dining, commodities, and modes of hospitality, influenced by colonial and metropolitan developments. Commensality allowed gentry families such as the Moretons, Norrises, and Heskeths to retain importance as key members of the county elite amid the shifting sands of the religious, political and social arena.

The screens passage at Rufford Old Hall, showing the entrances for the kitchens, buttery and pantry from the great hall (Anna Fielding)

The ways in which these families used and thought about commensality illustrate how there is no single way we can categorise early modern dining, no one way we can encapsulate early modern commensality. Instead, commensality was a nexus where religious, political, social, material and sensory contexts met and intersected. This complexity, I believe, makes this area of food and dining relatable for heritage visitors today, allowing for commensality to be viewed from these various perspectives and to shed light of various aspects of people’s lives. We can all recognise the complexity of food today, from the considerations we make and the anxieties we may feel when eating in company, to the new awareness of the precarity of food or of the importance of sharing a meal with friends for our mental health following the disruptions and isolation of the past few years.

The screen in the great hall at Rufford, part of the impressive woodwork in the great hall (Anna Fielding).

As well as a historical thesis on early modern commensality, my work also involves the creation and analysis of content at heritage sites, in the realm of public history. An exhibition and installation at Speke Hall conveys the fears and concerns of Catholics dining at home with Protestant guests while priests are hidden in priest holes or waiting at the table, disguised as servants. These pieces of work also highlight how religion, politics, social networks and landscape all intersected with food production and the workings of the early modern gentry kitchen. Training and future projects at Little Moreton and Rufford will allow both of these properties to engage more deeply with early modern food and its connections with various aspects of early modern lives; with the religious, political and social pressures felt by the north west gentry families who once populated the buildings. So, the study of ‘olden day dinner parties’ is a lot more complex than it initially sounds but it is a rich seam of historical research which can help historians and heritage visitors alike better understand early modern people’s experiences and relate to them across the table and the temporal divide.

Disability History Month 2021

We are excited to announce a collaboration with Manchester City Council and the Cultures of Disability research cluster for Disability History Month 2021. Learn more about the research cluster here.

November will see four great virtual lectures:

3 November, 6-7.30pm – Dr Jaipreet Virdi, Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History. Sign up

10 November, 6-7.30pm – Dr Kathryn Hurlock , Miraculous Cures and Pilgrimage in Manchester. Sign up

17 November, 6-7.30pm – Dr Emma-Jayne Graham, Disability in Ancient Rome. Sign up

24 November, 6-7.30pm – Simon Jarrrett, Intellectual Disability in England, 1750-1900. Sign up

More information on these, and how to register can be found on our website.

There will also be a final event at Manchester Central Library 3 December, marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Stay tuned for more information about this event.

We look forward to welcoming you in November!

Dr Simon Jarrett, Disability History Month: Intellectual Disability in England, 1750-1900 – 24 November 2021

We are looking forward to hosting Dr Jarrett on 24 November, 6pm

Dr Jarrett traces the little-known lives of people with learning disabilities from the communities of eighteenth-century England to the nineteenth-century asylum and care in today’s society. Using evidence from civil and criminal court-rooms, joke books, slang dictionaries, novels, art and caricature, this talk brings into sharp focus the lives of people often seen as the most marginalized in society.

Dr Simon Jarrett is an honorary research fellow at Birkbeck College, London. Having spent many years working with people with learning difficulties and with autism, he now advises local authorities and the NHS on improving services. In his recent book Those They Called Idiots: The Idea of the Disabled Mind from 1750 to the Present day (2020) he explores emerging ideas of intelligence, race and disability.

This is part of a series of lectures marking Disability History Month.

Sign up here.

For questions or further details please contact Dr Rosamund Oates – r.oates@mmu.ac.uk or Haseeb Khan – mohammed.khan@mmu.ac.uk


		Disability History Month: Miraculous Cures and Pilgrimage in Manchester image

		Disability History Month: Miraculous Cures and Pilgrimage in Manchester image

Dr Emma Jayne Graham, Disability History Month: Disability in Ancient Rome – 17 November 2021

On 17 November, 6pm we will welcome Dr Graham for a lecture as part of UK Disability History Month.

In this talk Emma-Jayne Graham uses archaeological evidence from Ancient Rome to explore disability in the classical world. She uses votives – models of the human body made as offerings to the gods – to ask what it was like to have a physical impairment in Roman Italy. This is a joint paper with the Manchester Classical Association and Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage.

Dr Emma-Jayne Graham is a Senior Lecturer in Classical Studies at the Open University with expertise in Ancient Rome. She uses archaeological remains to explore ideas about religion and disability in Roman Italy, her most recent book is Reassembling Religion in Roman Italy (2021).

This is part of a series of four lectures marking Disability History Month.

Sign up here.

For questions or further details please contact Dr Rosamund Oates – r.oates@mmu.ac.uk or Haseeb Khan – mohammed.khan@mmu.ac.uk


		Disability History Month: Miraculous Cures and Pilgrimage in Manchester image

		Disability History Month: Miraculous Cures and Pilgrimage in Manchester image