Today’s post is by Carolyn Gibbeson, ICCHS PhD researcher
I was invited to participate in the the Asylum Geographies session at the International Conference for Historical Geographers held in London last week at the Royal Geographical Society. The two sessions, which spread across the whole of Thursday morning, were organised by Chris Philo and Cheryl McGeachen (both Glasgow University) and sought to highlight and explore the small group of researchers who investigate asylum spaces and geographies, to look at the wider societal roles and to explore the rise in the geographies of asylums.
The first session contained four papers from Lauren Farquharson (University of Glasgow) looking at The Scottish Poor Law of Lunacy, Caroline Bressey (UCL) examining geographies of the cosmopolitan asylum, Cheryl McGeachen (Glasgow) looking at psychiatric art therapy and finally Sarah Phelan (Glasgow) who spoke about Thomas Ferguson Rodger, the first Professor of Psychological Medicine at the University of Glasgow. All four were fascinating papers looking at the past and present lives of people within the asylums and the asylums themselves. Caroline’s paper on the story of Caroline Brogdan who, when detained at the City of London asylum was living as a man was particularly fascinating and reveals the amazing stories that asylum archives contain, waiting to be explored and discovered.
My paper Memories, monuments and mansions: the multiple lives of former historic asylums started the second session. This drew on my current PhD research looking at the reuse of former asylum sites and concentrated particularly on place attachment/ place stigma to explore how different groups of people connected to these sites feel about them and portray them through their engagement with the reuse process. It argued that the current literature on place attachment (and place stigma) focuses less on negative places and different types of attachment and that these are areas that my research highlights. The sessions that followed mine were Nicole Baur (Exeter University) looking at the interplay between planned and non-planned space within the Devon County Asylum, a paper entitled Madhouse: or an investigation into “the regions below” by Chris Philo (presented by Cheryl McGeachen as Chris was in Canada) and Ebba Hogstrom who highlighted how the past, present and future exists in the new House of Psychiatry in Uppsala, Sweden.
All the papers presented provided a detailed and fascinating look into many different aspects of one particular building type and the research being done in this area. The links between past, present and future were really clear to see, as well as the continued discussions about how we present this work, given its often conflicting, challenging and difficult nature. I came away with renewed vigour and interest in my own work, as well as an interest in all the work presented in the sessions and some ideas for possible future research and publications should the PhD research time allow! It was a pleasure to be a part of the sessions at the conference and to be engaged in the continued discussions about these often forgotten places.