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Summer School 2018 – Genius and Madness: A Cultural History

Date and Time: First Meeting on 25 May 2018, Summer School Week, 18-20 June 2018
Venue: University of Amsterdam
Open to: RMa-students and PhD researchers from the Huizinga Institute and other national research schools
Credits: 5 ECTS (available upon request)
Coordination: Dr Babette Hellemans and Prof. Hubertus Büschel (RUG)
Registration (Maximum participants in this event: 25)
Register before 1 April 2018

Since the publication of Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (1961), we have come to recognize mental illness both as a socially constructed phenomenon and as a phenomenon which influences the culture of a society. Following Foucault we could also state that the emphasis on genius results in the classification of a person as extraordinary, often with marginalization as a consequence. In the long-term history of Western thought and European culture, the notion of genius has always been related to madness and melancholy. The origin of this cluster of concepts is twofold: on the one hand, we identify a medical, physical tradition; on the other hand, genius has an ethical and religious origin. In this set of concepts we detect elements of human failure, and notions of human “imperfection” and “abnormality”. Yet, “falling short” is not the only result of genius, melancholy, or madness.  The discourse of genius has also been entwined with the creative mind. Today, modern Western culture tends to medicalize talent and creativity. But in the period preceding ‘the age of reason’ (Foucault’s term), we can trace entanglements between mental disorder, art and esthetics, albeit in a different way.

This Summer School seeks to pick up assumptions about genius, madness and creativity in a diachronic and interdisciplinary way. Key themes around cultural translations of madness and genius will be discussed. We follow transdisciplinary approaches inspired by musicology, art history, film studies, cultural history, anthropology and psychology.

We welcome students from the humanities working in all periods and disciplines who would like to share their work and thoughts with us. The first meeting with the coordinators will be held in May 2018. We will be discussing Foucault’s Madness and Civilization in order to familiarize ourselves with this theoretical starting point. During the Summer School week, we shall have keynote lectures, discussions, as well as workshops, and also visit the Eye Museum to watch a movie on the topic.

speaker(s) and instructors


  • Prof. Brian Cummings, York University, on Madness in Shakespeare’s Plays
  • Dr Thomas Roeske, Curator Prinzhorn Collection Heidelberg, on art created by men and women with mental disorders

Special Guest Speaker and coordination visit to Eye Museum

  • Dr Julian Hanich, RUG, film studies

Workshops by speakers who will be working in tandem

Each ‘couple’ will be held responsible together for one of the four workshops; this allows for greater flexibility with regard to the presence of the speakers and aims at a truly interdisciplinary structure within the educational program

  • Prof. Monika Baár, Leiden University (disability and semiotics)
  • Dr Gemma Blok, UvA (modern Dutch literature and social history of psychiatry)
  • Prof. Hubertus Büschel, RUG (history of psychiatry and non-western cultures)
  • Dr Babette Hellemans, RUG (historical anthropology of pre-modern culture/ mysticism)
  • Prof. Sander van Maas, UvA (modern music and philosophy)
  • Dr Willemijn Ruberg, UU (cultural history of 19th c. forensic psychiatry)