black and white photo of several people chatting in group, with camera pointing at man wearing jacket and tie and smiling
Thomas Szasz, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries

Syracuse University Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) is pleased to announce the opening of the Thomas Szasz Papers.  At nearly 200 linear feet, the collection represents the culmination of several years’ work by SCRC staff, including surveying, analysis, organization, rehousing, and documentation and description of the correspondence, writings, photographs, posters, awards, and memorabilia of the noted Hungarian-American psychiatrist. The collection is opening during Disability Awareness and Appreciation Month, celebrated in October.

Thomas Stephen Szasz (1920-2012) was an American psychiatrist and scholar, best known for his criticisms of psychiatry and modern medicine, as well as his theories on the intersection of law and psychiatry. Born in Budapest, Hungary on April 15, 1920, Szasz immigrated to the United States in 1938. He received his medical education at the University of Cincinnati and his psychiatric training at the University of Chicago Clinics. In 1956, he became Professor of Psychiatry at the State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, New York, a post he held until 1990, when he became Professor Emeritus.

“We are very pleased to see the completed finding aid to our father’s collection of papers. Kudos to the archivists at Syracuse University for creating a comprehensive inventory that will be indispensable for researchers and scholars for years to come,” said Margot S. Peters and Suzy Szasz Palmer, Thomas Szasz’s daughters.

Dr. Szasz was a well-known social critic of the moral and scientific foundations of psychiatry and of the social control aims of medicine in modern society, which he referred to as “the therapeutic state.”  A libertarian, Szasz advocated for the legalization of all drugs, the abolition of involuntary mental hospitalization and the insanity defense, and “the right to be mentally ill.”  He was a prolific author and an active correspondent, with strong opinions on the power of language and the relationship between modern psychiatry and the state. His writings, lectures, and speeches often evoked lively debate.

Taken as a whole, the collection illuminates the growth and development of Dr. Szasz’s ideas and theories and his passionate belief in an individual’s right to control their own life. The collection provides useful and salient background context for themes immediately relevant today, such as the problem of addiction, the failure of the “War on Drugs,” and societal attitudes towards individuals suffering from mental health issues.

“We are very excited about the many possibilities that scholars, researchers and students will have to engage with the Thomas Szasz papers and look forward to the impact that the resulting scholarship will have on the field of psychiatry and discussions surrounding mental health,” said Petrina D. Jackson, Director of the Special Collections Research Center.

The finding aid for the Thomas Szasz Papers is available online. For more information about the Thomas Szasz Papers or to schedule a visit, please contact scrc@syr.edu.