Madness, Mining, and Migration in the U.S. and the Pacific, 1848–1900
Between 1848 and 1863, a series of major gold rushes in California, British Columbia, and Victoria, Australia, triggered mass migrations of mostly male, young, would-be miners from throughout the Pacific Rim region and the world. The influx of migrants hoping to strike it rich in the turbulent social and economic environment of gold country invariably included numerous persons who were deemed 'insane' and channeled into the regions' growing network of jails, hospitals, and asylums. This dissertation engages the history of these 'mad' migrants and poses central questions about connections between 'madness' and migration on the Anglophone mining frontier: how did migratory trajectories of 'mad' persons shape their encounters with regional institutions and what contributing role did such institutions play in charting those trajectories?
The answer, I argue, lies in a transnational understanding of nineteenth-century mobility. As elsewhere in the industrializing world of the nineteenth century, life and work in these three regions required greater geographical mobility than ever before. Through a focus on the migration corridor formed by the Pacific Rim gold rushes, I demonstrate that fluidity, flux, and border crossing were as much a part of the experiences of people considered 'mad as their 'sane' counterparts. Except in the most severe cases, 'mad' migrants remained part of a larger pattern of transnational occupational mobility that was punctuated, rather than terminated, by a series of encounters with jails, asylums, and hospitals. The outcomes of such encounters—whether they resulted in a long-term commitment, a perpetual cycle of admission and release, or a transfer to another institution—depended not only on the timing and severity of the person's condition, but also on where on fell into the social categories of race, class, gender and nationality.
Traditional, asylum-centered approaches to the history of psychiatry largely occlude from view these complex, migratory journeys through settler colonial systems of containment. I therefore argue for a new analytical approach to the international study of 'madness,' one that takes a wide-angle view of patients' life experiences and treats the asylum as only one of many possible waypoints for persons deemed 'insane' in the nineteenth century.
0347: Mental health
0506: World History