“He was running it like a plantation”: Psychiatric spaces and social death in the Jim Crow South

Jessica Womack's picture

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September 13, 2021
New Jersey, United States
Subject Fields: 
African American History / Studies, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Black History / Studies, Slavery, Psychology

In this presentation, Dr. Kylie Smith explores the long history of the shadow of the plantation, as both a symbol and a reality, in state psychiatric hospitals in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi in the twentieth century. Drawing on extensive archival work Dr. Smith demonstrates that Black patients were subject to psychiatric spaces that were little more than the plantation reimagined: spaces in which containment, not cure, was the object. To register for this virtual lecture, visit: https://bitly.com/0913ArtHx

Dr. Kylie Smith is an Associate Professor and the 2021-2022 President’s Humanities Fellow at the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Emory University in Atlanta. Dr. Smith came to Emory from Australia in 2015 as the Andrew W. Mellon Faculty Fellow for Nursing and the Humanities, and her work at Emory has been divided between the School of Nursing and History Department where she teaches courses on the history of nursing, psychiatry and racism in health care. She is the author of the award-winning book “Talking Therapy: Knowledge and Power in American Psychiatric Nursing” (Rutgers University Press, 2020). Her new book, “Jim Crow in the Asylum: Psychiatry and Civil Rights in the American South” is supported by the G13 Grant from the National Library of Medicine and is under contract with the University of North Carolina Press. It will be published in 2023 as both a monograph and a digital Open Access project.


This event is organized as a part of Art Hx: Visual and Medical Legacies of British Colonialism. During the 2021-2022 academic year, Art Hx presents curative / spaces, a programming series that explores the relationship between race, space, and healthcare through the lens of art and design. We will host a range of events that consider how experiences of race and medicine are spatially produced in architecture, design, and in the circulation of art. We want to reflect on how these relationships affect access to resources, meanings about the body, and people’s understandings and conceptions of healthcare. We hope the series will help us imaginatively redesign these processes of health injustice and build new practices of care together through art’s ability to transform society.

Co-Sponsors: Princeton University's Humanities Council Exploratory Grant in Collaborative Humanities, Center for Digital Humanities, and Departments of African American Studies, Art & Archaeology, and Religion.

Contact Info: 

Jessica Womack, Art Hx Project Manager

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