Cristina Hanganu-Bresch


Cristina Hanganu-Bresch has been generally interested in the rhetoric of psychiatry, which in her case involved forays into its history through archival work. Some of her projects involved working with asylum case notes and patient memoirs; others looked at the imagery of psychopharmaceutical ads, as well as at psychiatric patient art. Her most recent publication, coming out of a European sociolinguistics conference, looked at the first case of “manic-depressive insanity” registered at Ticehurst Asylum in Sussex, England, and the gradual realization of the attending doctors that this was indeed the diagnosis (2015; with Carol Berkenkotter). As of this summer, together with her co-author Carol Berkenkotter, she signed a contract with South Carolina University Press for an upcoming book tentatively titled “Madness and Identity: Diagnosing, Constructing, and Interpreting the Psychiatric Patient, 1850-1920” (forthcoming in 2017), which would capitalize on some of their earlier work together and incorporate some new material. In the book, they intend to examine the nature of psychiatric patienthood in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as emerging from primary and secondary sources that reveal the ambivalent nature of psychiatric confinement at this time: one in which confinement seems both necessary (indeed, inevitable) and punitive (as well as ineffective). Their book therefore looks at both aspects: on the one hand, at how doctors are negotiating the complexities of diagnosing mental illness and justifying confinement, and on the other at how patients and the general public find their own recourses to appeal the process and protest institutionalization. Both are sides of the same coin and a close reading of archival documents and period accounts of these struggles offers a complex picture of what it meant to be a mental patient in the English speaking world in the period examined. Thus, they hope to avoid a narrow look at psychiatric practices coming solely from the perspective of doctors or solely from the perspective of patients.