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Picturing the Asylum

  • Free
  • Seminar
  • Auto-captioned

What you’ll do

Watch a recording of Dr Katherine Rawling as she explores the casebooks of Holloway Sanatorium, a private hospital for “the insane” in Virginia Water, Surrey. The hospital casebooks, held in Wellcome Collection and now fully digitised as part of the mental health archives, are a rich source of information about patient diagnoses, symptoms, treatments and experiences.

They are also filled with hundreds of patient photographs. This talk uses these patient portraits to consider how, why, and to what effect the camera was used in the late-19th-century asylum.

You will learn about the experimental and varied practices of photographing patients, how patient images were used in the casebooks, the role of photography in capturing the practitioner-patient relationship and how we might interpret patient photographs to better understand patient experiences inside a psychiatric institution.

The presentation includes several historical medical photographs of patients.



Need to know


There will be auto-generated captions for this event.

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About your speaker

Black and white head and shoulders portrait of Katherine Rawling who has shoulder-length hair and is wearing glasses.

Dr Katherine Rawling

Dr Katherine Rawling is a lecturer in the History of Science and Medicine at the University of Leeds. Her research on asylum and medical photography appears in ‘Medical Humanities’ (2017) and ‘Social History of Medicine’ (2019). Her work on Holloway Sanatorium will be published in her forthcoming book, ‘Photography in English Asylums, c.1880–1914: The Institutional Eye’ (Palgrave Macmillan).