Madness on trial

A transatlantic history of English civil law and lunacy

By James Moran

Madness on trial


  • Hardcover
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-6379-0
  • Pages: 272
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £25.00
  • Published Date: May 2022
  • BIC Category: History, Modern History, History of Medicine, Sociology, Psychiatry, New Jersey, Mental health law, Legal history, England, LAW / Civil Law, HISTORY / Social History, SOCIAL SCIENCE / General, Mental Health Law, Medicine / History of medicine, Humanities / Social & cultural history, Legal History
  • Series: Social Histories of Medicine


This book examines the powerful influence of civil law on understandings and responses to madness in England and in New Jersey. The influence of civil law on the history of madness has not hitherto been of major academic investigation. This body of law, established and developed over a five hundred year period, greatly influenced how those from England's propertied classes understood and responded to madness. Moreover, the civil law governing the response to madness in England was successfully exported into several of its colonies, including New Jersey. Drawing on a well-preserved and rare collection of trials in lunacy in New Jersey, this book reveals the important ties of civil law, local custom and perceptions of madness in transatlantic perspectives. This book will be highly relevant to scholars interested in law, medicine, psychiatry and madness studies, as well as contemporary issues in mental capacity and guardianship.


'James Moran has provided an important addition to the historiography of psychiatry and mental health provision in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His new book contributes significantly to shifting the historical emphasis away from asylums and towards extra-institutional approaches to the card of the insane.'
Social History of Medicine

'Madness on Trial, introduces a 'treasure trove' of an alternative archive, in the form of documents relating to civil proceedings in lunacy from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century New Jersey. [it] is a welcome addition to the history of mental illness, and is a very useful and accessible work for anyone interested in mental health law and community or family practices of care.'
Journal of The Historical Association

'This is an excellent book: it offers a rich and deep inquiry into the legal and transatlantic histories of lunacy across place and space, also illuminating imperial legal practices around insanity. Moran's original history provides a new set of insights into the interpretation of insanity through laws, the way law was used by different people, and the translation of imperial law into colonial contexts. This has not been achieved for the transatlantic historical site in such a deliberate and detailed way before now [...] Moran's historical work is innovative. He makes a variety of new statements of method, purpose, evidence, and interpretation in and across legal and asylum histories. This field of madness, insanity, families, and institutions has a deep and sustained readership and continues to garner interest among students and researchers. Moran's book also traverses multiple fields and readers, and will bring legal-historical methods and ideas to a wider audience.'
Canadian Bulletin of Medical History

'Madness on Trial thus offers a rich history of lunacy investigation law as well as points to new resources for scholars studying madness, mental health, and civil law in the pre-asylum era.'
William J. Ryan, Journal of Early American History


List of tables
1 Introduction: civil law and madness in transatlantic context
2 Suing for a lunatic: lunacy investigation law, 1320-1890
3 Indefinite mental states: negotiating the legal definition of madness
4 Trials of madness: family struggles over property in England
5 Care and protection: managing madness in England
6 Atlantic crossing: lunacy law as colonial inheritance
7 Family, friends and neighbours: localizing madness in New Jersey
8 Asylum in the community: managing madness in New Jersey
9 Orders in lunacy: lunacy investigation law and the asylum reconsidered
10 Conclusion


James Moran is Professor in History at the University of Prince Edward Island

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