Back to All Events

Schizophrenics in the Twentieth Century. Writing the social history of mental illness – Lecture by Hervé Guillemain

Professor Hervé Guillemain (Le Mans University) will give the third lecture of the Health Humanities Lecture Series, with a talk entitled 'Schizophrenics in the Twentieth Century. Writing the social history of mental illness.'

This lecture takes place at the Kardinaal Mercierzaal of the Institute of Philosophy (Leuven) and is open to everyone, but registration is necessary (via


Why and how can a new mental illness arise, evolve and die? The historian Hervé Guillemain answers these very questions, delving into thousands of patient files in order to bring the voices of the ‘zero patients’ of schizophrenia out from the archives. To write from the point of view of clinicians would bring nothing new indeed. It is from the point of view of the schizophrenics that we need to write. They were the servants living and working in harsh conditions, as well as the migrants who were facing the crisis of the 1930’s. They were also young adults hoping for a new kind of empowerment. All of them were shaped under the aegis of science and medical practice, a new population subset recognizable through their gestures, their resistance to therapy, as well as their failure to adapt to the new selective model of French society, whether it was in schools, the army or at work.  Schizophrenia is now considered as a fragile, inoperative and stigmatizing category. The people who would like to rehabilitate these patients nowadays need to take a look back into the past in order to understand the present state of schizophrenia as well as the diffusion of this illness and its historical repercussions.


Hervé Guillemain is professor in contemporary history at Le Mans University (France) and member of the research center TEMOS CNRS. He is currently working on the history of psychiatry and medicine from the point of view of patients, citizens and amateurs in the field of care and cure. He has notably written Les schizophrènes au XXe siècle. Des effets secondaires de l’histoire (2018); Du front à l’asile. 1914-1918 (2013) ; La Méthode Coué. Histoire d’une pratique de guérison au XXe siècle (2010).

For further inquiries: