CNY Humanities Corridor Visiting Scholars Brownbag Presentation

Jenn ThomasJenn Thomas (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
“Researching Nineteenth-Century Insane Asylum Landscapes of New York State”
Brownbag Presentation: September 5, 2014 / Noon / Tolley 304 / SU Humanities Center

Between 1843 and 1890 New York built state run insane asylums in Utica, Ovid, Binghamton, Poughkeepsie, Middletown, Buffalo, and Ogdensburg.  With the passage of the New York State Care Act of 1890, six more local asylums were brought into the state institutional fold, bringing the total to thirteen.  Most asylums required large amounts of acreage to treat hundreds of patients.  Land to farm, access to natural resources and picturesque settings were considered essential for treating the mentally unwell.  Moral treatment, the Quaker inspired psychiatric practice of the age, combined spiritual guidance, behavior modification, and labor activities to administer patient healing.  Regimented daily routines aimed to adjust mind, body and spirit back to a reasoned state.  Male patients cultivated crops, tended livestock, and constructed formal gardens, grounds and buildings.  Domestic tasks, like cleaning, sewing and laundry were done by women.  Patients participated in a variety of recreational activities including supervised strolls, carriage rides, theatrical performances, and sporting events.  Although asylum histories often focus on specific doctors, treatments, or exceptional circumstances, this project emphasizes how landscape-related activities reinforced expected normative behaviors, reflected contemporaneous landscape theories, as well as paralleled social and state concerns related to mental illness, gender, class, and race in New York.

Jenn Thomas is landscape architecture PhD candidate in the history/theory track at the University of Illinois at Urbana‐Champaign and was a 2013‐2014 graduate fellow at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Art History from the University of Oregon and a Master of Landscape Architecture with a certificate in Historic Preservation from the University of Colorado Denver. Her master’s thesis (2009)—The Education of Jane Silverstein Ries at the Lowthorpe School of Landscape Architecture for Women, Groton, MA, 1928‐1932—explored gendered pedagogy in professional training of women landscape architects through Ries’s schoolwork.





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