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History of Psychiatry

The history of psychiatry has been a research focus at the Institute for the History of Medicine and Ethics in Medicine since the 1980s.

  • Development of the Berlin institutions for the care of the mentally ill
  • social treatment of the "mentally ill“
  • genesis of the professional self-image in psychiatry
  • models for the interpretation of mental alterity

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Objective of the history of psychiatry

The open working group is composed of staff members of the Institute for the History of Medicine and Ethics in Medicine as well as researchers of humanities disciplines from other Berlin scientific institutions (Humboldt University, Free University, Max Planck Institutes). Current research and dissertation projects of internal and external scientists as well as new literature are discussed once a month.

The historical medical records archive of the Psychiatric and Nervous Clinic of the Charité is also looked after by the working group. Access to the archive for scientific purposes is regulated by an application procedure with the institute's management and its use is regulated by archive regulations.

It is our aim to offer researchers in the fields of neurology, psychiatry and psychoanalysis a working platform for the presentation and discussion of research proposals and results as well as of unfinished publication projects.

Topics in the history of psychiatry

  • Development of Berlin's institutions for outpatient and inpatient care of the mentally ill, their urban and social embedding, their networking and their organizational structures
  • Social treatment of the mentally ill in the 19th and 20th centuries
  • Genesis of the professional self-image of psychiatrists
  • Development of modern models for the interpretation of mental alterity, their classification and methods of therapy


Founded by Gerhard Baader and Heinz-Peter Schmiedebach, the study of the different aspects of the institution of psychiatry is continued in the AG Psychiatriegeschichte (Working Group History of Psychiatry). Monthly meetings are held (participation upon request).


Current Research Projects

NORMAL#VERRÜCKT: Contemporary History of an Eroding Difference

The interdisciplinary DFG project "NORMAL#VERRÜCKT Zeitgeschichte einer erodierenden Differenz" (FOR 3031) aims to compile the history of transformation in dealing with psychological otherness. Our institute is represented in this research group of nine university institutions with three subprojects.

Completed research projects

Doing Patient. Psychotherapeutic Self-Reports from the GDR

The research project " Doing Patient. Psychotherapeutische Selbstberichte aus der DDR" pursues a praxeological perspective on the patient:inside history of GDR psychiatry and psychotherapy.

DFG Research Group "Cultures of Madness“

Am Rande des Wahnsinns: Schwellenräume einer urbanen Moderne (eds. V. Hess, H.-P. Schmiedebach) 2012, Böhlau Verlag.

Schmiedebach) 2012, Böhlau Verlag.

The research group Cultures of Madness investigates the threshold phenomena of urban modernity (1870-1930).

The aim of the research group is to develop a modern cultural history of madness. It examines those discourses, practices, and techniques by which madness was differentiated into the shapes and varieties of our modern understanding between 1870 and 1930. We consider "madness" as the field of a redefinition of subjectivity and individuation that took place in the years between the founding of the German Empire and the eve of fascism, marking the beginning of an "urban modernity."

We examine "madness" under the epistemological approach of a threshold space, which lends itself to an interdisciplinary approach, as it allows us to analyze forms of expression, regulation, and discursivation in the urban setting.

Projects at the Institute:

The Revolution as a "Psychopathological Treasure Trove. Urban Life, Consequences of the War and Coping with the Crisis from a Psychiatric Perspective (Berlin 1918-1923)
(Die Revolution als "psychopathologische Fundgrube. Städtische Lebenswelten, Kriegsfolgen und Krisenbewältigung aus psychiatrischer Sicht (Berlin 1918-1923))

Head: PD Dr. Thomas Beddies
Collaborators: Dr. Petra Fuchs, Wolfgang Rose, M.A.

Urban disorders in psychiatric treatment. Practices, Spaces and Knowledge Techniques of the Berlin Mental Hospital, 1870-1930
(Urbane Störungen in psychiatrischer Behandlung. Praktiken, Räume und Wissenstechniken der Berliner Nervenklinik, 1870-1930)

Director: Prof. Dr. Volker Hess
Collaborators:  Alexander Friedland, Dr. Rainer Herrn, Dr. Sophie Ledebur, Marie Schlotter

Madness in the City: Pathways, Places, Institutions in Berlin, 1870-1930. G

Direction: Prof. Dr. Volker Hess, Prof. Dr. Beate Binder
Collaborators: Sven Bergmann, Kelly Miller

Participating institutions
Charité-University Medicine Berlin
Humboldt University Berlin
Technical University of Berlin
University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf
Center for Literary and Cultural Research Berlin

Wahnsinnsgeschichte(n), Interventionen und kein Ende… (Stories of Madness, Interventions and No End...)

Final event of the DFG research group "Cultures of Madness" on July 3, 2015.
Start: 4:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Location: Ambulatorium on the RAW grounds, Revaler Straße 99, Berlin-Friedrichshain, Warschauer Straße subway station.
Moderation: Tina Mendelsohn
Musical accompaniment: Ugo d'Orazio


Speaker: Prof. Dr. Volker Hess (Berlin)
deputy speaker: Prof. Dr. Heinz-Peter Schmiedebach (Hamburg)
Funding: DFG FOR 1120
Duration: 01.2009-01.2015
DFG Research Unit 1120