By Laura Mowat
Whilst scouring the Internet for articles on psychiatric museums the necessary qualities for academic success became evident: persistence, patience and practice.
I was set two tasks to complete during my intern experience. The first involved gathering information on the geographic locations of psychiatric museums and compiling this data into a table. It was during this investigative process that I learned of the importance of persistence. After my numerous Google searches for ‘psychiatric museums’ led me to a dead end, I realised a little more creativity was required. Google searches for ‘Museums of mental illness’, ‘the weirdest museums of the world’ and ‘psychiatric exhibitions’ proved more fruitful. After much persistence and dealing with the time consuming process of translating web pages into English, I was able to compose a table that highlighted the global positioning of psychiatric museums. It appeared that each museum had a different purpose; the American museums tended to exhibit the horrific and gruesome side of psychiatric care and in one case was fighting to expose patient neglect and wrongful care. In Europe and Australia attitudes appeared different; exhibits became more about banishing the stigma associated with psychiatric care and exploring the history of medical advancement. In all cases the museum or exhibitions seemed to be trying to further our understanding of psychiatric care and lessening the tabooed nature of the subject.
The second task required a scoping review of psychiatric literature. My initial confidence in undertaking this task soon vanished as my lack of patience became apparent. When writing an essay at university the academic literature for each topic is widely accessible. When researching more obscure subject matters, however, knowledge of how to reach the far corners of the Internet whilst maintaining some sort of sanity and self-control is crucial. After reading many unrelated articles and tearing my hair out at misleading abstracts, I eventually began to find articles of use. Learning about the significance of your search words and summoning the patience to endlessly click the next button on google scholar finally led me to the articles I desired. The articles and books posed interesting questions about the geographies of museums and the differing ways exhibits are being displayed in the present day. Many of the articles were concerned with the sensitivities of displaying potentially delicate subject matters and argued that considering patient reactions was of utmost importance. In general all the articles were discussing the necessity to reduce the stigma that surrounds the psychiatric system and its patients and explored the concept of museum displays as a method to deepen public understanding of all aspects of the psychiatric process.
Overall, my internship experience has been interesting and insightful and I would seriously urge anyone who has the chance, to take part. I have learnt how to be persistent when searching for information. I have developed a higher level of patience (especially with the graphics functions of Microsoft word!) and have gained a deeper knowledge of psychiatric systems across the globe. I have been able to practice and perfect google search queries and have learnt of the importance of using specific key words. I have gained an admiration and respect for the process my lecturers always undertake and ultimately I learnt what it takes to be an academic: persistence, patience and practice.
Laura has recently undertaken an internship with the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences searching for psychiatric museum material.