Skip to main content

Steinhof: A Difficult Modernity

Wednesday, May 5, 2021, 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm

When the Steinhof psychiatric hospital complex was opened in 1907 it was publicised and acclaimed in superlatives: the largest, the most advanced, the epitome of the modern psychiatric facility. But what modern meant in terms of psychiatric hospital design was not at all self-evident in the early twentieth century, and sceptical voices from within and beyond the psychiatric profession saw the very institution of the asylum as outdated and oppressive. Otto Wagner was only one of a series of advanced architects across the Austrian lands of the Empire who sought to make a tired institution culturally meaningful through architectural, landscape and small-scale urban design. But while other designers opted for the familiar imagery of the organic village, Wagner imagined the hospital complex as a utopian city on a hill, recasting carceral control and isolation as advanced master planning in an early modernist mode. This lecture will situate Steinhof in the context of the other psychiatric hospitals of the region, and architectural and psychiatric history more broadly, arguing that it embodies a difficult modernity.

Please register for the event here. After registration you can watch the event at this Zoom link.

Leslie Topp is Professor of Architectural History at Birkbeck, University of London. She is author of Freedom and the Cage: Modern Architecture and Psychiatry in Central Europe, 1890-1914 (2017) and Architecture and Truth in Fin-de-siècle Vienna (2004). In 2009-10 she co-curated the exhibition “Madness and Modernity: Mental Illness and the Visual Arts in Vienna 1900” (Wellcome Collection, London and Wien Museum). Her current research explores debates about isolation and enforced togetherness in institutions of confinement in Europe and North America in the nineteenth century. In 2021-22 she will be Visiting Professor at Queen’s University, Ontario, funded by a Leverhulme International Fellowship.

Emese Lafferton is a historian of science and medicine in the Department of History at Central European University. Her research explores medical and scientific traditions in Central and Eastern Europe, focusing on biopolitics, the history of ‘racial sciences’ (eugenics, physical anthropology, criminal anthropology, ethnography, public health) and psychiatry in the multi-ethnic Habsburg empire and its successor states in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her relevant publications include a monograph entitled Psychiatry’s Dual Monarchy. Hungarian Psychiatry, Society and Politics in the Long 19th Century released by Palgrave Macmillan later this year and an edited volume Race, Science and Medicine in Central and Eastern Europe around 1900 (Thematic issue of East Central Europe, 2016/1-2). She is member of the Editorial Board at the European Journal for the History of Medicine and Health (Brill).

Michael L. Miller is an Associate Professor in the Nationalism Studies program at Central European University in Budapest, and co-founder of its Jewish Studies program. Michael’s research focuses on the impact of nationality conflicts on the religious, cultural, and political development of Central European Jewry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Miller’s publications include Rabbis and Revolution: The Jews of Moravia in the Age of Emancipation(Stanford University Press, 2011), he is one of the authors of Zwischen Prag und Nikolsburg: Leben in den böhmishcen Ländern (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2019), which will appear in English as Prague and Beyond: Jews in the Bohemian Lands (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021). He is currently working on a history of Hungarian Jewry, titled Manovill: A Tale of Two Hungarys.