Introducing: Sarah Phelan

Sarah is currently undertaking a PhD in Medical Humanities at the University of Glasgow which is funded by a Lord Kelvin/Adam Smith PhD scholarship, and supervised by Dr. Gavin Miller (English Literature) and Prof. Chris Philo (Geographical and Earth Sciences). Sarah can be contacted by e-mail: s.phelan.1@research.gla.ac.uk

‘Lonely lost people living in the waste-land’: T. Ferguson Rodger, ‘social psychiatry’, ‘mad dreaming’ and ‘rethinking mental health’

My PhD will explore the contribution to psychiatry of Thomas Ferguson Rodger (1907–1978), first Professor of Psychological Medicine at the University of Glasgow (1949–1973) and consultant psychiatrist at several Glasgow hospitals. Rodger is a somewhat neglected figure in the history of Scottish psychiatry, yet his career spanned – and in some measure also shaped – an important period of transformation as older “asylum-based” psychiatry was challenged by emergent general hospital- and community-based psychiatry. Rodger’s personal archive, including lecture notes, case notes, correspondence and miscellaneous items, has recently been acquired by the University of Glasgow Archives. My PhD will comprise a forensic reading/interpretation of this archive, alongside oral histories with individuals who remember him and his immediate legacy in/beyond the University. Adopting perspectives drawn from the history/geography of psychiatry and medical humanities, the ambition will be to reconstruct Rodger’s life, ideas and practices, set within the changing ‘spaces’ of mid-twentieth century psychiatric medicine.

The eclectic nature of Rodger’s contribution shows in the varied roles he played, such as chairman of a sub-committee offering “cautious support” to the use of hypnotism and member of the Wilson Committee investigating the effects of noise upon mental health. His earlier career involved a spell of military service during WWII where he attained worldwide expertise in officer selection and personnel deployment techniques. Henry Dicks’ book, Fifty Years of the Tavistock, offers a glimpse of the wartime activities of Rodger and his fellow military psychiatrists associated with the Tavistock Clinic in London, noting his membership of “what we have often privately called the ‘invisible’ college”. During his professorship at the University, Rodger’s department was located at the Southern General Hospital and, along with the surgeon J Sloan Robertson, he contributed to the hospital’s position at the forefront of the combination of Psychological Medicine and Neurological Sciences.

Following a preliminary engagement with Rodger’s papers, a number of issues such as Rodger’s experiences as a military psychiatrist as well as his expressed “Eclectic Approach” have emerged as particularly compelling. However, further reading of Rodger’s archive, in particular, patient case histories and the six so-called “dream-books” promise to reveal the deepest insight into the therapeutic encounter between Rodger and his patients.

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