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NFC Doctoral Fellow Lecture | Filippo Sposini

Mar. 09 2:00p.m.

From Persons to Cases: The Global History of Lunacy Certificates (1850s-1890s)

 

To watch the livestream on Youtube, click here. 

About the talk

The certification of insanity was a medico-legal procedure that became an essential step for civil confinement into lunatic asylums. By mid-nineteenth century, many jurisdictions followed the so-called “British system of certification” which involved two medical practitioners personally examining the alleged insane. Each doctor was required to fill a standardized certificate which required them to indicate “facts of insanity personally observed” and “facts of insanity communicated by others”. Only after the completion of this form, people could be officially certified as insane and be recommended for asylum treatment. 
 
Despite the medical, legal, and social impact of the certification process, we still know very little about this procedure. This presentation will trace the development of the “British system of certification” for then exploring its international diffusion in the British empire during the second half of the nineteenth century. It will explore how practitioners engaged with their role as certifiers, how they proposed to depict “facts of insanity”, and the legal bearings of their actions. 
 
By considering its transnational trajectory, the presentation will suggest that the certification of insanity provides an interesting opportunity for addressing the origins of stigma in mental health and disability. As statutory documents holding legal power, certificates of insanity transformed family concerns into a medical, social, and political issue. Not only personal examination exposed intimate family dynamics to the public, but it also created a written record difficult to erase from bureaucracy and social memory.

About the speaker

Trained as a psychologist in Italy and the US, Filippo Sposini is a PhD Candidate at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IHPST). Before moving to Canada, he worked as a health promoter in several reception centers for refugees in Italy and as a head-hunter for a Dutch multinational firm. His dissertation, entitled The Certification of Insanity: Local Origins and Global Consequences, explores the emergence of the "medical certification of insanity" in the nineteenth century. Taking a transnational approach, he looks at the influence of the "British system of certification” around the world. His research engages with some of the most delicate issues in contemporary health policy, including stigma, expertise, and human rights. He collaborates with the WHO’s Mental Health Unit on the MindBank Project. Passionate about Digital Humanities, he created mindthepast, a website dedicated to health and disability rights in history. In his free time, Filippo enjoys Delta Blues and Trail Running. 

 

For more information and to register for this event, please email: nfc@utoronto.ca