History events at the IHR

The status of senility: what was 'ill' about old-age mental illness in nineteenth-century psychiatry?

08 October 2013, 17:15 - 19:15

Event Type: Seminar


Emily Andrews (Warwick)


Should old-age mental decline be considered a natural, inevitable part of ageing, or a pathological entity; a disease?  In the era of the 'demographic timebomb', this has become a loaded and controversial question.  This paper will ask how psychiatrists, welfare administrators and carers approached this question, in the less-heightened atmosphere of nineteenth-century Britain.   It will look at four domains of nineteenth-century psychiatry:  the theoretical domain of medical publications; the political domain of asylum and workhouse administration; the personal domain of the household; and the institutional domain of the asylum itself.  There are no firm conclusions to be drawn:  the status of senility remained undecided throughout this period.  The way in which this ambiguity was negotiated, however, opens up some interesting insights into the meanings of old age and insanity in Victorian Britain.

Venue: Room 103 (Senate House, first floor)

Senate House
Malet Street 
London WC1E 7HU 

Download a map of the central precinct with directions for getting to the University of London Senate House.

Related Events: Life-Cycles History