Education: Graduate of Cambridge University and Durham University, England.
Writer, psychologist, and social historian. Tavistock Institute of Human Relations and Tavistock Clinic, London, England, former psychologist; Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London, former research associate; University College, London, honorary research fellow in the history of medicine.
(With Robert Hayward) From the Mental Patient to the Person, Travistock/Routledge (New York, NY), 1991, published as Relocating Madness: From the Mental Patient to the Person, Free Association Books (London, England), 1995.
Closing the Asylum: The Mental Patient in Modern Society, Penguin (London, England), 1992, 2nd edition, 1997.
Peter Barham is a British psychologist and historian of mental health who has written on topics from schizophrenia to the role of the mental patient in the modern world. In his 2004 book, Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War, the author scoured archives, letters, and even pension records to construct a social history of the psychological suffering of veterans from World War I and the horrors of trench warfare. While such histories usually focus on the well known, such as poets like Siegfried Sassoon or Robert Graves, Barham unearths hundreds of stories of "forgotten lunatics," those who were not famous but who suffered during and after the war from psychological problems. There was also different treatment accorded the officer class and common soldiers who suffered from psychiatric problems as a result of the war. While officers were often diagnosed as neurasthenic and sent to hospitals where they might be treated, the common soldier too often was seen as a lunatic, someone incurably insane who had to be locked up. The author uses these stories to trace the changing attitudes toward the mentally ill on the part of many segments of society, from the military itself to the media and the public at large. In the process, Barham also indicts the postwar British government for its seeming indifference in the care of these veterans. Under pressure from the general public, the military eventually created a system of War Mental Hospitals for therapy rather than mere confinement. However, as the Great War receded further in history and in people's memories, the plight of those mentally damaged in the war worsened. This was exacerbated by the Great Depression and the subsequent shrinking in the government budget. By the late 1920s, more than sixty percent of claims for mental incapacity were being rejected and pensions for those already approved were also being reduced. In many cases, such claims were rejected with the government laying the blame for such mental problems on the victim, the soldier himself.
Barham's study received widespread critical acclaim. Writing for the Lancet, Colin Martin called Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War a "poignant book." A Contemporary Review critic termed it an "exhaustive study," and further praised Barham for his "width of learning and depth of scholarship." Historian critic George Robb also had high praise for Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War, calling it an "excellent" book, as well as a "a detailed, comprehensive, and carefully researched study of the war's mental patients." Similarly, Library Journal reviewer Frederic Krome called Barham's work a "provocative book," while Institute of Historical Research contributor Jonathan Toms found it "persuasive, informative, and enjoyable to read." Toms further commented that Barham "has cast his net widely across archives and skillfully brought together an array of disparate fragments of soldiers' and pensioners' experiences that throws them and their treatment, by psychiatrists and the state, into a new light." And writing in London's Independent, Jonathan Sale felt that Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War was a "powerful offering."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, December, 2005, Steve Sturdy, review of Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War, p. 1599.
Choice, April, 1992, J.A. Mather, review of From the Mental Patient to the Person, p. 1302; June, 2005, F. Van Hartesveldt, review of Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War, p. 1888.
Community Care, January 21, 1993, Viv Lindow, review of Closing the Asylum: The Mental Patient in Modern Society, p. 28; April 9, 1998, Robert Brown, review of Closing the Asylum, p. 32.
Contemporary Review, March, 1997, review of Closing the Asylum, p. 164; February 1, 2005, review of Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War, p. 123.
Historian, spring, 2007, George Robb, review of Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War, p. 181.
History of the Human Sciences, August, 2005, Arthur Kleinman, review of Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War, p. 119.
Independent (London, England), November 11, 2004, Jonathan Sale, review of Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War.
International Journal of Social Psychiatry, fall, 1992, Alison Conning, review of From the Mental Patient to the Person, p. 242.
Journal of Social Policy, April, 1996, "Relocating Madness: From the Mental Patient to the Person," p. 296.
Lancet, October 30, 2004, Colin Martin, review of Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War, p. 1574.
Library Journal, October 15, 2004, Frederic Krome, review of Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War, p. 72.
London Review of Books, November 4, 2004, review of Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War, p. 12 March 3, 2005, "Newfangled Inner Worlds," p. 21.
Nursing Times, January 20, 1993, Charles Patmore, review of Closing the Asylum, p. 53.
SciTech Book News, September 1, 1991, review of From the Mental Patient to the Person, p. 27.
Times Educational Supplement, September 25, 1992, David Self, review of Closing the Asylum, p. 8.
Times Literary Supplement, March 25, 2005, "Damaged Soldiers," p. 27.
Humanities and Social Sciences Online,http://www.h-net.org/ (December, 2005), Fiona Reid, review of Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War.
Institute of Historical Research Web site,http://www.history.ac.uk/ (September 2, 2008), Jonathan Toms, review of Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War.