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Doctors visiting Bethlem

Visiting the Bethlem archives

The Archives and Museum regularly receives visits from psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. This is unsurprising, given that it is itself part of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, with strong links to the Institute of Psychiatry and other partners in the provision of mental healthcare.

Every now and then, however, visitors arrive from further afield, sometimes as part of a pre-arranged school or university group visit, at other times entirely unannounced in ones or twos.

Recently we hosted a visit from a group from Athens, and we will be welcoming students from a college in Connecticut later this week. In the past fortnight, we have also bumped into visiting psychiatrists from Vienna and Oslo, both with an interest in the history of European psychiatry in general, and the prominent and a typical place occupied within it by Bethlem Hospital in particular.

Touring doctors in the nineteenth century

This puts us in mind of a parallel phenomenon of the nineteenth century: that of the intra-European collegial visits made by doctors intent on discovering what provision other countries had made for the care and treatment of the mentally ill.

These visits, and the reports that were made of them, were a means of highlighting 'best practice' (as well as worst), and formed part of a drive towards the 'moral management' of patients, the construction of more appropriate hospital buildings, and the establishment of psychiatry as a medical discipline.

A few years ago, Bethlem Archives & Museum partnered with museums of psychiatry on the continent to produce a electronic resource to make available the reports of four of these nineteenth-century journeys, made by Drs Morison of London and Edinburgh, Guislain of Ghent, Everts of Noord-Holland and Hack Tuke of York respectively.

As those who browse the site will discover, the honeymoon of one of these doctors effectively doubled as a psychiatric fact-finding mission. We can only guess at what his spouse made of this.

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Photographs of Dr Morison, Dr Guislain, Dr Everts and Dr Hack Tucke