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Theaters of MadnessInsane Asylums and Nineteenth-Century American Culture$
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Benjamin Reiss

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780226709635

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226709659.001.0001

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Introduction: Sanative Culture

Introduction: Sanative Culture

(p.1) Introduction: Sanative Culture
Theaters of Madness
University of Chicago Press

From the early 1830s until just before the Civil War, a great utopian movement to rehabilitate the insane resulted in the construction of dozens of publicly funded asylums, primarily but not exclusively in the Northern states. There, patients were attended to by medical staff who controlled their diet, exercise routines, drug intake, and cultural pursuits: their habits in literature, worship, handicrafts, and the like. The moral treatment movement gained systematicity in nineteenth-century asylums. Virtually every element of patients' quotidian routines attained therapeutic significance, but such activities as reading, writing, performing plays, worshipping in chapel, and learning useful—even marketable—skills were considered especially significant components of treatment, since they demonstrated the ability of the patients to internalize and reproduce the codes of behavior and thought endorsed by the authorities. This book investigates the cultural activity of inmates and doctors under the moral treatment regime in nineteenth-century asylums. It hopes to recapture the texture of a time when the treatment of the insane in America was a central topic in cultural conversations about democracy, freedom, and modernity.

Keywords:   asylums, moral treatment movement, inmates, doctors, patients, insane, America, democracy, freedom, literature

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