Colonialism and its Aftermath

Insanity in an ‘age of mobility’: Institutional confinement and colonial identities

This Work-in-Progress seminar paper will outline Cathy's current book in preparation. Briefly, this book will examine the formation of colonial social identities in medicine through two colonial institutions for the insane in Victoria and New Zealand and their patient records between 1870 and 1910 with particular attention to ethnicity, gender and class as categories of analysis. It explores migration and ethnicity in the colonies in the context of the imperial world of medicine.

The major strengths of this book include its interrogation of a new area of inquiry (insanity and colonial identity-making, especially through the categories of ethnicity and gender), its use of a large and robust empirical database, and its critique and deployment of new historical methods and theories to evaluate this data. In addition, it seeks to draw together separate fields of scholarly inquiry (feminist and gender studies, ideas about ‘race’ and ethnicity) to bring new questions about mental health institutions and colonial society into focus.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are no specific book-length studies of colonial social identities which explore using psychiatric patient records to discover more about the production of gender, ‘race’/ethnicity and class in the colonial context. An edited collection on the subject of Medicine and Colonial Identity (Sutphen and Andrews, Routledge, 2003) considers the question of medicine and colonial identity in broad terms – without consideration of psychiatry – and several separate book-length studies of insanity in different colonial settings, including different African countries and India, raise issues around ‘identity’ but without framing a coherent and sustained argument around this problem. Ethnicity, in particular, is an under-developed theme in the literature, and this book seeks to link several significant categories of historical analysis to shed light on the way that colonial identities were indeed created through institutional confinement in white settler colonies: a new topic for inquiry.

Catharine Coleborne, History Programme, School of Social Sciences, University of Waikato, New Zealand.

Catharine Coleborne is Associate Professor of History at the University of Waikato. She has published two sole-authored books, including Madness in the Family (Palgrave 2010) and is the co-editor of three books. She is currently producing a new book for Manchester University Press, Insanity, Identity and Empire, for the Studies in Imperialism Series. Her new co-edited book for Angela McCarthy, Migration, Ethnicity and Mental Health: International Perspectives, will appear with Routledge in 2012.