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On the Implications of Language in Exhibit Space

written by Magdalena Cupo

The original 19th century descriptions of the lithographs will be absent from the gallery space of our website. Three factors contributed to our decision not to display the original descriptors there. First, the language used in the original descriptions is outdated and could be offensive. As such we do not want this to be the first thing visitors see when entering the gallery space. We seek to make our gallery a safe space that is welcoming and inviting. Language has amorphous aspects that change and evolve with time, and this is why something that people saw no issue with the 19th century is problematic now. Despite this we do not accept a nostalgic historicist approach that would dismiss the problematic aspects of this language just because it is old. Simply because the original descriptions were considered ‘ok’ at the time of their creation clearly does not mean they were actually acceptable. Language changes, but just that fact does not mean we approve of the old forms of language. Second, the ‘diagnoses’ given at the time do not correspond to any medical or mental health conditions currently. As such they are a fiction that does not need to continue to be perpetuated. The individuals represented in the lithographs were misdiagnosed and we do not want to solidify in any way that misdiagnosis by placing these labels near them.

Finally, we always want to put the person first in our exhibit and these descriptions reduce the individual to an illness to be studied not a person to be respected, so we do not want them to exist in our gallery space.

Despite not wanting to display the original descriptions in the gallery space some people may still want access to them and as we seek to provide as much access to the collection as possible, we will include the original descriptions in this blog post with the corresponding picture identifiers so people can see them if they wish. But we would like to be very clear that the language in these descriptions has the potential to be triggering so we would like to warn people beforehand. HPD-02 original description "J.G., A male patient diagnosed with monomania of grandeur." HPD-04 original description "A male patient diagnosed with religious insane pride." HPD-18 original description "A female patient diagnosed with acute dementia." HPD-17 original description "A female patient diagnosed with acute dementia." HPD-01 original description "A male patient diagnosed with acute dementia." HPD-15 original description "Ann Bristow, a female patient diagnosed with monomania." HPD-14 original description "A dumb female patient cured of puerperal mania." HPD-13 original description "A dumb female patient diagnosed with puerperal mania." HPD-12 original description "A male patient diagnosed with mania." HPD-11 original description "Eliza Viney, a female patient diagnosed with mania." HPD-10 original description "A female patient diagnosed with mania." HPD-09 original description "Eliza Ash, a female patient cured of mania." HPD-08 original description "Eliza Ash, a female patient diagnosed with mania." HPD-06 original description "H.D. a male patient diagnosed with insane propensity to burn." HPD-07 original description "G.D., a male patient diagnosed with idiocy." HPD-05 original description "F.S., A male patient" HPD-16 original description "A male patient diagnosed with monomania." HPD-03 original description "M.P., a female patient diagnosed with monomania of grandeur." HPD-19 original description "A female patient diagnosed with acute dementia." HPD-20 original description "A female patient diagnosed with general paralysis; a male patient diagnosed with epilepsy." HPD-21 original description "A male patient diagnosed with general paralysis." HPD-22 original description "A male patient diagnosed with idiocy." HPD-23 original description "A male patient" HPD-24 original description "A male patient diagnosed with dementia." HPD-25 original description "A female patient diagnosed with mania." HPD-26 original description "A female patient cured of mania." HPD-27 original description "A male patient" HPD-28 original description "A male patient" HPD-29 original description "A female patient with her hands held over her head." HPD-30 original description "A female patient reading a book." HPD-31 original description "A female patient" HPD-32 original description "A female patient" HPD-33 original description "A female patient" HPD-34 original description "A female patient" HPD-35 original description "A female patient"

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