This book contributes to the growing scholarly interest in mental disability and its history by investigating the emergence of idiot asylums in England during the Victorian period. By focusing on the Earlswood Asylum, formerly the National Asylum for Idiots, as a case study, the book looks at the social history of institutionalisation, extending the analysis of confinement to the network of extramural care and control. It argues that institutional confinement of mentally disabled and mentally ill individuals in the 19th century cannot be understood independently of an analysis of familial and community care which existed outside the walls of the asylum. In this account, the family plays a significant role in the history of the asylum, initiating the identification of mental disability, participating in the certification process, mediating the medical treatment, and facilitating discharge back into the community. In this respect the methodological approach of this book owes a great deal to the pioneering work of John Walton, Mark Finnane, Nancy Tomes, and Richard Fox, who all identified the family as central to our understanding of the rise of mental hospitals.
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