A Virtual Case of Hysteria

Events and Exhibitions

Even as our library buildings are currently closed, we are working to bring our academic and public programs to our community through digital means. The forthcoming online component of our recent exhibition, A Case of Hysteria? The Altogether Shocking History of Women’s Mental Health, will be the first in a series of programs that complement our traditional, physical library exhibitions and public events.

A Case of Hysteria? looks at how women’s physical and mental health issues have for millennia been routinely mischaracterized and misdiagnosed. The materials on display, which include books, newspapers, photographs, advertisements, personal letters, and 3-D objects, are drawn from the USC Libraries’ collections as well as a group of partner institutions, including the Patton State Mental Hospital in San Bernardino and the now-closed Rockhaven Sanitarium in Glendale.

Items ranging from Jean-Martin Charcot’s groundbreaking 19th-century Lectures on the Diseases of the Nervous System to Walter Freeman’s mid-20th-century lobotomy pick—used predominantly on women—to Ellen Forney’s 2018 graphic novel about her own harrowing mental health experiences reveal the injustices and slow evolution of systematic and institutional changes in women’s mental healthcare. The virtual version will offer deeper access to the original exhibition’s content, which also included rare books and papers from USC’s California Social Welfare ArchivesLila Berman Papers, Frank Lanterman Papers, and Norris Medical Library.

The design of the online component will be modeled after USC Digital Voltaire, a recently unveiled, ambitious multimodal publication involving a collection of correspondence between the 18th-century French philosopher and other leading figures of the Enlightenment period. The project was built with the open-source software Scalar, an online framework originally developed by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, of which USC is a founding member. The platform affords immersive encounters with the subject matter, moving seamlessly from high-resolution images to maps, timelines, and biographical data.

Anne-Marie Maxwell of the USC Libraries curated both manifestations of the exhibition, with assistance from Social Work Librarian Alyssa Brissett. Megan Rosenbloom curated a companion exhibition at the Norris Medical Library entitled Rest Cures: A History of Sanatoriums in Southern California.