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Title: The patients of the Bristol lunatic asylum in the nineteenth century
Author: Tobia, Paul
ISNI:       0000 0004 6349 0967
Awarding Body: University of the West of England
Current Institution: University of the West of England, Bristol
Date of Award: 2017
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There is a wide and impressive historiography about British lunatic asylums in the nineteenth century, the vast majority of which is concerned with their nature and significance. This study does not ignore such subjects but is primarily concerned with the patients, and specifically those of the Bristol Asylum. It asks who they were, what their stories were, how they fared in the asylum, and how the patients’ experience of the asylum changed during the period 1861-1900. It uses a distinctive and multi-faceted methodology, including a comprehensive database - compiled from the asylum records - of all the patients admitted in the nineteenth century. Using pivot tables to analyse the data, the range and nature of the patients admitted according to social class, occupation, age, sex and diagnosis have been accurately assessed. This data dispels suggestions that the patients as a group represented an ‘underclass’. It has also been possible to determine in what ways the asylum changed and how successive medical superintendents altered its nature and ethos. One of these results showed how these various doctors relied on significantly different diagnostic criteria. This affected the lives of the patients and illustrates the somewhat erratic nature of Victorian psychiatric diagnostics. The database was also the starting point for the research here into the patients as individuals. Many aspects of life in the asylum can best be understood by looking at individual cases. The database and other records demonstrate the extent of epilepsy at the asylum, for example, but only individual case studies will show the extent of the suffering and life changing effects consequent upon that illness. Contributing to the telling of these stories is a substantial collection of photographs of the patients. Although their value as evidence is a matter of judgement, it is demonstrated here that they significantly aid our historical imagination – a vital element of social historical practice - in understanding the humanity and suffering of the primary subjects of this study. This study aims, therefore, to be a useful contribution to a growing historiography which offers a more nuanced view of the asylums and brings the lives of patients to the forefront.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: patients ; Bristol lunatic asylum ; nineteenth century