HIST 471G4: History of Mental Health in the US

TR, 9:30-10:45
Fall 2023
Monroe 233

Jeffrey McClurken
Office:  GW 105
E-mail:  jmcclurk at
Zoom Phone:  540-654-1475
Office Hours:  by appt (contact me through any of these or Canvas)
Twitter, IG, BlueSky (@jmcclurken)

Course Description

This readings seminar will explore the history of mental health in the US from the 1600s to the present.  More broadly, this course is also a history of mental illness and mental institutions, of social constructions of mental illness and health, of treatment of those perceived to be mentally ill, and of the perceptions of mental illness and health in popular, legal, medical, and academic contexts.


Departmental Course Goals and Objectives

This course will help students build upon a range of skills, including the ability to make discipline-specific oral presentations to groups; the ability to utilize technological resources in research, data analysis, and presentation; the ability to communicate in a group setting; and the ability to read critically primary sources and modern authorities.  This course counts in the History major as a 400-level course.


Course Requirements

This class requires a research-based digital project, online writing, and a short presentation, but will largely be structured around class discussions of readings. Students are expected to attend all classes, read all assigned texts, post regularly to their blog and the class wiki, participate in class, and help lead two weeks of class discussions. Projects and other assignments are due at the start of class on the day they are due.  [There may be times when you are feeling ill.  Stay away from class on those days and let me know what is going on so we can talk through options.]

A note about this semester and this class

This class is not the most important thing in your life.  It’s not the most important thing in mine. Don’t get me wrong, there’s much to learn here and I love and have so much fun exploring these topics with you and your classmates.  But take care of yourself.  Reach out to me if there are things in your life that end up taking precedence over this class.  Let’s talk about them.


In the Bookstore

Earley, Pete. Crazy: A Father’s Search through America’s Mental Health Madness. New York: Berkley Books, 2007.

Gonaver, Wendy. The Peculiar Institution and the Making of Modern Psychiatry, 1840-1880. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2018.

Grob, Gerald N. Mad Among Us. New York: Free Press, 1994.

Kaysen, Susanna. Girl, Interrupted. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.

Metzl, Jonathan. The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease. Boston: Beacon Press, 2009.

Other readings on Course WordPress site.


Discussions and Reading Questions

Students are expected to attend all classes having read the material and having prepared 2-3 questions or debate topics.  The questions—posted to LINK by 12:01 AM (at the latest) on class days—should be aimed at provoking class discussions on the reading.  [Since these are intended to help prepare you for class discussion, late questions will not be accepted.]

Class participation includes posting these questions and then actively participating in these daily discussions.[1]  Each of you will also be expected to co-lead group discussion with another person (or persons) during two weeks.  Discussion leaders need to meet with me ahead of time to talk about how to facilitate discussion.

Having trouble keeping up with the reading or adding to the discussion? The following blog posts by Dr. Caleb McDaniel of Rice University may be helpful in reading and in contributing to our discussions.


Weekly Resource Blog Posts

Create a new (or use a preexisting) WordPress site on Domain of One’s Own or Sites@UMW by Thursday, August 31.  Send me your blog URL. All semester, once a week (by Thursday), post a link to a digital resource, image, podcast, clip, article, document, Reels, Thread, meme, blog post, etc., and write a brief (2-4 sentence) post summarizing it and its relevance to the course or your project.  These resources should be either on the theme of the week’s class discussion or about your paper topic.  In addition to helping you do research on your project, this work will also create a set of resources related to the history and current thoughts about mental institutions that we’ll use later in the semester.  Tag each of those posts with histmental2023.   [Don’t have a Domain of One’s Own account or a Sites@UMW account or need a refresher? See here.  Or the Digital Knowledge Center can help you get started.]


Mental Health Related Movie or Show Review

During week 12, we’ll be discussing movies/shows/popular culture depictions of US Mental Health.  By the start of Fall Break, pick a movie or show (these lists might be helpful if you get stuck: and and, keeping in mind that you need to be able to find a copy of it to watch on your own.  [Everyone will need to have a different film or show, so you may want to pick yours earlier than Fall Break.]  Before class on November 14, post a 300-500 word digitally-enhanced (use images/clips/GIFs) essay on your blog summarizing your film or show and explaining how it fits into our understanding of the history and memory of US Mental Health. When posted, submit link on Canvas.  [This assignment is worth 10% of your overall grade.]

Research-Based Digital Project
You must create a research-based digital project on a particular aspect or topic of the history or memory of mental health in the US.  Your project should be based in primary sources, but should appropriately contextualize your topic within the historiography of the scholarly literature and within ideas and themes of the history and memory of US mental health as discussed in this seminar. You must cite all images, clips, facts, ideas, paraphrasing, and quotes, in footnotes and bibliography, using either Turabian (9th edition) or the Chicago Manual of Style (17th edition).  [For more details on citations, see the resource page on the library site. Or you could just use Zotero.]  At all stages, you must also cite any uses of Generative AI (e.g., ChatGPT) in any stage of the process, including prompts used.

Digital Project Options — There are multiple modalities you can explore for the digital project.  One would be to create a digitally enhanced research essay (1500-3000 words) on your class WordPress site that takes advantage of the digital medium.  Another option would be to extensively annotate a set of web-based digital sources using a tool like A third would be to create a video documentary (10-15 minutes in length) on your topic.  If you have another idea for a digital project, set up a time to meet with me and discuss it.

1) A broad project topic (with tentative digital project option) and citations of ten significant primary and secondary sources are due by the start of class on Tuesday, September 12 for my approval. Submit in Canvas.

— Note: this bibliography of narratives might be helpful in finding sources (though it is a bit dated and you will want to make sure you’re using US-based accounts):

2) A 250-300 word proposal plus annotated bibliography is due Tuesday, September 26 at the start of class and should be posted to your blog (with the link submitted to me on Canvas as well).  It should briefly outline a preliminary approach to your project and the topics likely to be explored, and should detail sources sufficient to write a major research project.  The annotated bibliography should include at least twenty sources. [Worth 5% of overall class grade.]

3) Finally, the digital projectis due before the start of class on Tuesday, October 31. Again, create a blog post introducing it and submit the link to that post on Canvas. [Worth 25% of overall class grade.]

Digital projects will be assessed on content (including originality and quality and use of evidence, analysis, and sources), grammar, usability, presentation, citations, and overall effectiveness.  [Regardless of modality, these should all include the use of primary sources about the history/memory of mental health in US, analysis that makes an argument or arguments that fits within (or responds to) the secondary scholarly literature, and use of the digital medium.]

Oral Presentation

At the end of the semester (either in the last week of class or during the exam period) everyone will make a 7-8-minute presentation summarizing her or his project and findings. [Worth 10% of final grade.]

Final Grades

Final grades will be determined based on class participation (including two weeks of co-leading discussion) (40%), on performance on the proposal & annotated bibliography (5%) and digital research project (25%), on performance on the resource blog posts (10%), on the movie/show review (10%), and on the quality of the oral presentation on research (10%).  [Unsatisfactory mid-semester reports will be reported for anyone with a grade of D+ or below at that time.]  Completion of all assignments is required to pass the class.


      Grading Scale

A Unusual Excellence 93 or higher=A; 90-92=A-
B Distinctly Above Average 87-89=B+; 83-86=B; 80-82=B-
C Average Quality 77-79=C+; 73-76=C; 70-72=C-
D Below Average Quality 67-69=D+; 60-66=D
F Failure, No Credit 0-59=F

Honor Code

I believe in the Honor Code as an essential, positive component of the Mary Washington experience.  You should know that if you cheat or plagiarize in this class, you will fail, and I will take you to the Honor Council.  So, do not do it.  On the other hand, I also believe that having friends or family read and comment on your writing and projects can be extremely helpful and falls within the bounds of the Honor Code (assuming the writing and work itself remains yours).  If you have questions about these issues, including about the use of Generative AI tools, then you should talk to me sooner rather than later.


Generative AI Policy

Use of AI is approved and encouraged in this course; however, students should refer to individual course assignments for instructions regarding how to use and/or document use of AI, if applicable to the assignment.  Or ask me.  We are all learning how these tools can, and ethically, how should be used.  It will take us some trial and error to figure all of that out.  But in this class that should always take place in conversation with me.

Although AI use is permitted in this course, you should keep the following points in mind:

  • AI is a continuously developing tool. Keep track of how you use AI (e.g., original and revised prompts, where in your thinking process you used AI, different output over time). An electronic file with screenshots and notes or a written journal of your process documents your workflow and, as needed, supports appropriate attribution and citation.
  • Fact check all AI output. AI tools are built on systems and inputs with acknowledged biases. Early and current AI output has produced factual errors and the tools ‘hallucinate’ or fabricate information. This is especially true if the AI is prompted about something for which it has little or no information (including making up bibliography citations). Unless you know the answer with 100% certainty, check responses with trusted sources.
  • AI is only as good as the prompts it receives. It may take practice and time to use AI for results meeting expectations and standards. As a result, AI may not be the best or easiest route for completing a task.
  • Different professors treat the use of AI tools differently. Double-check with individual professors if you are unsure about whether AI use is appropriate for a specific assignment.



The Office of Disability Resources has been designated by the university as the primary office to guide, counsel, and assist students with disabilities. If you receive services through the Office of Disability Resources and require accommodations for this class, please provide me a copy of your accommodation letter via email or during a meeting. I encourage you to follow-up with me about your accommodations and needs within this class. I will hold any information you share with me in the strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise.

If you have not made contact with the Office of Disability Resources and have reasonable accommodation needs, their office is located in Seacobeck 005, phone number is (540) 654-1266 and email is  The office will require appropriate documentation of disability.

Title IX Statement

University of Mary Washington faculty are committed to supporting students and upholding the University’s Policy on Sexual and Gender Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence. Under Title IX and this Policy, discrimination based upon sex or gender is prohibited. If you experience an incident of sex or gender based discrimination, we encourage you to report it. While you may talk to me, understand that as a “Responsible Employee” of the University, I MUST report to UMW’s Title IX Coordinator what you share. If you wish to speak to someone confidentially, please contact the confidential resources found below. They can connect you with support services and help you explore your options. You may also seek assistance from UMW’s Title IX Coordinator, their contact information can be found below. Please visit to view UMW’s Policy on Sexual and Gender Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence and to find further information on support and resources.

Ruth Davison, Ph.D., Title IX Coordinator
Lee Hall, Room 401
1301 College Avenue Fredericksburg, VA 22401
Phone: 540-654-5656

Confidential Resources
Talley Center for Counseling Services Lee Hall, Room 106, 540-654-1053
Student Health Center Lee Hall, Room 112, 540-654-1040

Empowerhouse 24-hr hotline: 540-373-9373
Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault (RCASA) 24-hr hotline: 540-371-1666

Recording Policy Statement

In this class, students may not make audio or video recordings of any course activity unless the student has an approved accommodation from the Office of Disability Resources permitting the recording class meetings. In such cases, the accommodation letter must be presented to the instructor in advance of any recording being done and all students in the course will be notified whenever recording will be taking place. Students who are permitted to record classes are not permitted to redistribute audio or video recordings of statements or comments from the course to individuals who are not students in the course without the express permission of the faculty member and of any students who are recorded. Distribution without permission is a violation of educational privacy law. This policy is consistent with UMW’s Policy on Recording Class and Distribution of Course Materials.


Basic Needs Security
Learning effectively and engaging wholly in class is dependent upon our basic security and having our fundamental needs met: having a safe place to sleep at night, regular access to nutritious food, and some assurance of safety. If you have difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or if you lack a safe and stable place to live, please contact Chris Porter, Assistant Dean of Students, at  Additionally, the Gwen Hale Resource Center is a free resource on campus, providing food, toiletries and clothing to any member of our community. It is open Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 1pm-6pm, on the 5th floor (floor A for Attic) of Lee Hall, or . Finally, you are always welcome to talk with me about needs, if you are comfortable doing so. This will enable me to provide any resources I may possess.


Digital Knowledge Center

The Digital Knowledge Center (DKC), located in HCC 408, provides UMW students with peer tutoring on digital projects and assignments. Any student at the University can take advantage of the Center’s services by scheduling an appointment to work one-on-one or in a group with a student tutor. You can schedule a tutorial through; while appointments are not required, they are recommended. Tutorials cover a wide range of topics related to common digital systems, technologies, new media, and tools used in courses at UMW. DKC tutors adhere to the UMW Honor Code during all appointments. They are available to provide guidance and advice, but they cannot create, produce, or edit work on a student’s behalf.

Help Desk (Computer Issues)

If you are having difficulties with Canvas or connecting to online University resources, seek assistance from the Help Desk:

Simpson Library

The Simpson Library provides access to important physical and online resources and spaces.  Computers, printers, scanners, and study rooms are available for students, faculty, and staff.  Research librarians are available to assist you via phone, email, chat, or face-to-face.

Online databases, research guides, and e-books are accessible off-campus by using your network ID and password.  An online interlibrary loan service is also available so that students can request books and articles not available at the Simpson Library.

Speaking and Writing Center

The Speaking and Writing Center supports oral and written communication skills development through one-on-one or group consultations that address every stage of the composing process from brainstorming to final presentation and editing including, but not limited to, speaking and writing anxiety, developing ideas, constructing visual aids and incorporating visuals into a paper, taking a project from paper to presentation, structure and organization, achieving unity and coherence, style and voice, and a variety of citation styles.

We are here to help at any stage in the process – visit us early and often for assistance with your speaking and writing projects. UMW students, staff, and faculty can schedule 30- or 60-minute appointments with a consultant individually or as a group.

We are committed to aiding development of written and oral skills aimed towards effectively communicating a diversity of views. The Speaking and Writing Center adheres strictly to the Honor Code: Consultants will not compose any portion of a paper or presentation for a student, nor will they do research for a student.

Topics & Readings

Week 1 – beginning Aug. 29 – What exactly are we studying this semester?

— Aug. 29 — Introduction

— Aug. 31 — Grob, Mad among Us: A History of the Care of the Mentally Ill, Preface (ix-xi), Prologue (1-3); Tomes, Art of Asylum Keeping, Intro to Paperback edition (ix-xxvii); Shorter, History of Psychiatry, Preface (vi-x) (online); Sadowsky, Empire of Depression, Preface; Tone, Age of Anxiety,  Bertolote, “The Roots of the Concept of Mental Health“; and text as well as Talk Tab).


Week 2 – beginning Sept. 5 – Overview(s) of US (& Other) Mental Institutions

— Sept. 5 – Grob, Mad among Us, Chapter 1-5 (1-128).

— Sept. 7 – Grob (Ch.1-5 continued); Shorter, History of Psychiatry, Chapter 1-2 (1-68)(online); Foucault, Madness & Civilization, Chapter 9 (241-278)(online).

Project topic & citations of twenty significant sources due by start of class on Tuesday, Sept. 12.


Week 3 – beginning Sept. 12 – The Origins of American Asylums and Psychiatry

— Sept. 12 – Tomes, Art of Asylum Keeping, TOC-187.  [Pay special attention to the historiographical discussion on 1-18.]

— Sept. 14 – Tomes, Art of Asylum Keeping, 188-329.


Week 4 – beginning Sept. 19 

I have conflicts with the Chief of Staff part of my job (off-campus on Tuesday and elsewhere on campus on Thursday).  Spend this week working on your Digital Project Proposal and Annotated Bibliography due on Tuesday, Sept. 26. I will be available for any questions or if you want to meet about the project.

250-300 word project proposal (plus annotated bibliography of at least 20 sources) due Tuesday, September 26 at start of class


Week 5 – beginning Sept. 26 – Race, Mental Illness, and the Civil War Era

— Sept. 26 – Gonaver, The Peculiar Institution and the Making of Modern Psychiatry, 1-144; McClurken, Take Care of the Living-Intro-Ch 5 (online).

— Sept. 28 – Gonaver, The Peculiar Institution and the Making of Modern Psychiatry, 145-190; Summers, Madness in the City, 1-12 (Ch.1), 71-95(Ch.3).


Week 6 – beginning Oct. 3 – 19th-Century Female Reformers and Accounts of Women at Asylum

— Oct. 3 – Nellie Bly, Ten Days in a Mad-House (1887), 1-94 (in print version); Dorothea Dix Memorials – Massachusetts (1843), Memorial to Congress (1850), Maryland (1852).

— Oct. 5 – Geller & Harris, eds., Women of the Asylum – Foreword (xiii-xxviii), 1840-1865 (11-86), 1865-1890 (87-168) (online)


Week 7 – beginning Oct. 10 — Mental Institutions & Psychiatry in the 20th Century

— Oct. 10 – Grob, Mad among Us, Chapter 6-9 (129-248); Freud, “Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis” (1910), 207-223; Szasz, “Myth of Mental Illness” (1960), 346-351.

— Oct. 12 — Summers, Madness in the City, 190-246 (Ch. 7&8). [Discussion of research projects.]


Week 8 – beginning Oct. 17 – 20th Century Accounts of Women in Mental Institutions

— Oct. 17 — Fall Break – No Class Tuesday 

— Oct. 19 – Geller & Harris, eds., Women of the Asylum –1921 to 1945(263-325); Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted, 1-168.


Week 9 – beginning Oct. 24 – Changes in the Post-WWII Era: Deinstitutionalization, PTSD, & Therapy

— Oct. 24 — Grob, Mad among Us, Chapter 10-11 (249-311); Primary Source Readings on 20th Century developments, 369-420 (Mad_to_Mental_20thC).

— Oct. 26 – Summers, Madness in the City, 247-314 (Ch. 9, 10, Conclusion). [Madness in the City (pgs 247-269), Madness in the City (pgs 270-293), Madness in the City (pgs 294-314)]

Research Project due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, October 31. 


Week 10 – beginning Oct. 31 – Race and Mental Illness in the Civil Rights Era

— Oct. 31 – Metzl, The Protest Psychosis, ix-128.

 Nov. 2 – Metzl, The Protest Psychosis, 129-212.


Movie/show blog post due before start of class on Tuesday, November 14


Week 11 – beginning Nov. 7 — Psychopharmacology & treatment

— Nov. 7 – Election Day — No class

— Nov. 9 – Tone, The Age of Anxiety (selections); Sadowsky, Empire of Depression (selections); Whitaker, Anatomy of an Epidemic, Forward and Chapter 1.


Week 12 – beginning Nov. 14 – Popular culture and depictions of mental health and its histories 

— Nov. 14 – Discussion of Movie/Show reviews.

— Nov. 16 – Discussion of Movie/Show reviews, cont.; Advertising and art, Jay, This Way Madness Lies (online).

Week 13 – beginning Nov. 21 

— Nov. 21 – Readings to be announced based on sources collected by class over the semester and a chance to discuss anything we have missed.

— No Class Nov. 23 — Have A Good Thanksgiving!


Week 14 – beginning Nov. 28 – One Look at 21st-Century Mental Health Options

— Nov. 28 – Earley, Crazy, TOC-207.

— Nov. 30 – Earley, Crazy, 209-361.


Week 15 – beginning Dec. 5

— Dec. 5 – Presentations

— Dec. 7 – Presentations

Exam Period – Thursday, December 14, 8:30-11 AM – Remaining Presentations & Discussion of Semester


[1] To that end, for each class students should also prepare some notes on the reading (parallels, problems, factual questions, reminders of past readings, connections to ideas from other classes or from “real life”) so that they have those points in front of them for the discussion.  Although I have no current plan to collect these comments, I reserve the right to do so at some point during the semester.