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History of forensic psychiatry

Engstrom, Eric J

doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e3283317ccb
History and philosophy: Edited by KWM (Bill) Fulford, John Z Sadler and Paul Hoff

Purpose of review The purpose of this review is to highlight recent English-language literature in the history of psychiatry, with a special emphasis on the history of forensic psychiatry. It considers publications from 2008 and early 2009, as well as a few important older works that have not yet been reviewed in these pages.

Recent findings The history of forensic psychiatry is a mixtum compositum that challenges historians to reassess their stock narratives in many different ways. Recent studies have demonstrated that the traditional research paradigms of modernization, medicalization, and professionalization fail adequately to capture the historical complexity and contingency of forensic practices and experiences. These deficits have prompted historians to set out in search of new, more hybrid historiographic strategies. Accordingly, their research is turning increasingly to the thresholds of forensic psychiatry where they are exploring how a heterogeneous array of concepts, images, and materials are exchanged and circulated in ways that shape the historical disposition of forensic psychiatry.

Summary This review assesses three historiographic domains in which historians have traditionally situated forensic psychiatry. It argues that we need to be cognizant of these different domains and to recognize that enhancing our historical understanding will require us to reflect more carefully on the relationship between them.

Department of History, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany

Correspondence to Eric J. Engstrom, PhD, Department of History, Humboldt University, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin, Germany Tel: +49 30 686 9949; e-mail:; web:∼engstroe/

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.