University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

Physics and Astronomy Calendar

Friday, September 12th 2014
Speaker: Martin Summers, Department of History, African and African Diaspora Studies Program, Boston College
Subject: 'A Maze of Unintelligibility': Psychotherapy and African American Patients at Saint Elizabeths Hospital, 1900-1940
Refreshments served in Room 216 Physics at 3:15 p.m.

With its emphasis on the individualization of mental disease, dynamic psychiatry held out the promise of more efficacious treatment modalities. If psychiatrists could get beneath the surface of patients' symptoms and understand their "meanings and values," then they had a better chance of facilitating mentally ill individuals' readjustment to their social environments. This talk is an examination of the use of psychotherapy on African American patients at Saint Elizabeths Hospital, a federal mental institution in Washington, D.C., in the early twentieth century. The psychiatrists and nurses engaged with these patients in ways that both revealed a concern for their mental well-being and a deep sense of racial antipathy. African American patients were not merely objects of medical scrutiny and targets of institutional management however. They interacted with the staff in ways that challenged the medical authority to not only determine the clinical encounter, but to establish particular truth claims about black insanity as well.

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