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Palgrave Macmillan

The Certification of Insanity

Local Origins and Imperial Consequences

  • Book
  • © 2023


  • Examines how the ‘Victorian system’ of certifying the insane has informed today’s mental health laws and documents
  • Offers the first systematic attempt to study the certification of insanity from a comparative viewpoint
  • Draws upon case studies from Europe, the Americas, and the Pacific

Part of the book series: Mental Health in Historical Perspective (MHHP)

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About this book

This book represents the first systematic study of the certification of lunacy in the British Empire. Considering a variety of legal, archival, and published sources, it traces the origins and dissemination of a peculiar method for determining mental unsoundness defined as the ‘Victorian system’. Shaped by the dynamics surrounding the clandestine committal of wealthy Londoners in private madhouses, this system featured three distinctive tenets: standardized forms, independent medical examinations, and written facts of insanity. Despite their complexity, Victorian certificates achieved a remarkable success. Not only did they survive in the UK for more than a century, but they also served as a model for the development of mental health laws around the world. By the start of the Second World War, more than seventy colonial and non-colonial jurisdictions adopted the Victorian formula for making lunacy official with some countries still relying on it to this very day. Using case studies from Europe, the Americas, and the Pacific, this book charts the temporal and geographical trajectory of an imperial technology used to determine a person’s destiny. Shifting the focus from metropolitan policies to colonial dynamics, and from macro developments to micro histories, it explores the perspectives of families, doctors, and public officials as they began to deal with the delicate business of certification. This book will be of interest to scholars working on mental health policy, the history of medicine, disability studies, and the British Empire. 


Table of contents (7 chapters)

Authors and Affiliations

  • Institute for the History & Philosophy of Science & Technology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

    Filippo Maria Sposini

About the author

Filippo Maria Sposini is a researcher interested in the global history of madness, medicine, and law. He has published on the history of deviance in social sciences, the emergence of confinement procedures in Canada, and the production of psychiatric expertise in Victorian Britain. Previously, he studied at the University of Toronto in Canada and trained as a psychologist in Italy.

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: The Certification of Insanity

  • Book Subtitle: Local Origins and Imperial Consequences

  • Authors: Filippo Maria Sposini

  • Series Title: Mental Health in Historical Perspective

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: History, History (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-031-42741-1Published: 01 December 2023

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-031-42744-2Due: 01 January 2024

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-031-42742-8Published: 30 November 2023

  • Series ISSN: 2634-6036

  • Series E-ISSN: 2634-6044

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XI, 329

  • Number of Illustrations: 22 b/w illustrations, 8 illustrations in colour

  • Topics: History of Science, History of Medicine, History of Psychology, Imperialism and Colonialism, History of Britain and Ireland

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