This explanation is intended to show the vast importance of reading and regulated study in the management of the insane. It opens up a thousand channels by which new and given impressions may be conveyed to the mind at the will, but without the apparent interference of the physician: it introduces moral medicine into the system [...] it soothes or animates, depresses or excites, instructs or amuses, and in some instances exposes the folly and fallacy of particular opinions [...] It is certainly as expedient to bestow care upon the Library as upon the Laboratory.
— W. A. F. Browne, Superintendent of Crichton Royal Institution

Asylum Libraries is a website for “‘Library as Laboratory’: Moral Treatment, Patient Libraries and Reading in Nineteenth-Century British and Irish Asylums”, a PhD project by Laura Blair based at Queen Mary, University of London and funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The project examines the place of reading and writing in the nineteenth-century British and Irish asylum systems. It will explore the ways in which reading was viewed as simultaneously psychologically disruptive and restorative; how these effects were utilised as part of the therapeutic regime of ‘moral treatment’; and how patients experienced reading and writing during their institutionalisation.

More information about the project

The cultural context of asylum reading

Project process & methodologies