This week in History of Mental Health in the U.S. we have been reading and discussing Martin Summer’s Madness in the City of Magnificent Intentions: A History of Race and Mental Illness in the Nation’s Capital. After some research into the book and the author, and stumbled across a JSOTR article that I felt would fit the topic of this week’s discussion. Martin Summers wrote an article that appeared in Bulletin of the History of Medicine titled “‘Suitable Care of the African When Afflicted With Insanity’: Race, Madness, and Social Order in Comparative Perspective.” The article examines the parallels and convergences of racial differences in the American psychiatric community, and the concrete practices of inmate management in mental institutions. Summers focuses on the post-emancipation United States and colonial sub-Saharan Africa as case studies, mapping the “theories and rhetoric of racial hierarchy that characterized psychiatrists’ thought regarding the etiology of mental illness among people of African descent and the specific pathologies to which they were subject.” Summers examines Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital, which is one of the mental institutions we have also discussed previously in this class. Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital is the first federal mental institution in Washington, D.C., and the article explores the ways in which these theories of racial hierarchy translated into the actual management of African American patients. Summer’s ultimately argues that “in order to fully comprehend the role of race in the history of the asylum in the United States, historians need to familiarize themselves with the history and historiography of colonial psychiatry.”
Summers, Martin. “‘Suitable Care of the African When Afflicted With Insanity’: Race, Madness, and Social Order in Comparative Perspective.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 84, no. 1 (2010): 58–91. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44451843.