Past Events

**POSTPONED** Viewing Virtually and Learning to Look: The Topographical Asylum Print

Research Lunch – Anna Jamieson

  • 17 March 2023
  • 1:00 – 2:00 pm
  • Paul Mellon Centre


By the final decades of the eighteenth century, asylums and hospitals had become mainstays of England’s philanthropic tourist circuit. Providing visitors with the opportunity to interact with human suffering, asylums were uniquely placed to encourage and facilitate the display of humanity deemed socially appropriate during this period.

For the educated elite now engaged in philanthropic tourism, the asylum was often first encountered via the topographical print. Analysing a range of prints that depict asylum exteriors and their environs, this talk argues that these prints played an important role in shaping first impressions before a tour, guiding tourists in ways to look and behave in these unique and unsettling spaces. It demonstrates that viewing topographical prints prior to a visit evoked one’s social status, in that they characterised asylums as polite and esteemed destinations only accessible to the elite classes. At the same time, the talk suggests that topographical prints were designed to intrigue and titillate guests, with painters and printmakers employing unusual perspectives or fragmentary scenes to pique the interest of the visitor and provide a tantalising glimpse of life behind the asylum façade.

Listing image caption: T. H. Shepherd, St Luke's Hospital, Cripplegate, London, 1815, engraving. Image courtesy of Wellcome Collection (Public Domain)

About the speaker

  • Head and shoulders portrait of Anna Jamieson against bookshelves

    Anna Jamieson is an interdisciplinary art historian, a postdoctoral fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre and an associate lecturer at Birkbeck, University of London. Anna specialises in visual and material cultures of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, with a particular interest in women’s mental illness; the cultural history of psychiatry; and dark tourism. She is currently writing her first monograph, The Gaze of the Sane: Asylum Tourism in England, 1770–1845. She is co-director of Birkbeck’s Centre for Museum Cultures and a member of the steering committee for Birkbeck’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Mental Health. Anna’s research has been published in Eighteenth-Century Studies and Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies and her co-edited volume, Pockets, Pouches and Secret Drawers is forthcoming with Brill (2023). She is an associate editor for the medical humanities website The Polyphony and tweets at @annafranjam.