Latin lesson to inspire us today
19 January, 2021
Many Roman history enthusiasts—like yours truly—share a common regret: Tacitus’s missing volumes. Publius Cornelius Tacitus (56-120 AD) was one of Rome’s foremost historians.
His magnum opus, the Annals, gives a detailed, rich and fairly impartial historical description of early imperial Rome across the ages of Augustus, Caligula, Claudius and Nero.
Of the original 16 volumes of the Annals, four are missing entirely, plus parts of four more. When reading the Annals, one can only lament what these missing volumes might have told us.
Avoiding mistakes of the past
Contemporaneous historical narratives are invaluable to say the least. As a psychiatrist with an interest in history, I experience the difficulty of finding reliable first-hand, personal sources which relay the story of an era or event I am interested in.
This begs me to think about future generations, and where they will need to look if they want to know more about what we, as psychiatrists, mental health professionals, patients and carers, do and experience in this era.
We have sophisticated technology, scientific knowledge, and institutional documentation which they would discover with ease.
So, it would be almost a sin for us not to provide them with individual and personal views of today’s work in mental health, to complement their other findings and ensure that they do not wander aimlessly in a fog of the past as we find that sometimes we ourselves do.
Creating an archive now for future generations
During my work with the History of Psychiatry Special Interest Group (HoPSIG), and with the College’s 180th anniversary in the year ahead of us, this thought on archives started to materialise into a project.
If we want to know what a historian might one day learn about us, there is a way to do it: create our own ‘Future Archives’.
It would be our time capsule, our message to future generations about what things were really like in 2020-2021, a cornerstone archive for historians in the future.
Our ‘Future Archives’ project not only aims to provide a psychiatrists’ archive of psychiatry, but it goes beyond that, to create an archive from multiple viewpoints.
Personal historical records often reflect their authors’ social, political, educational and ideological inclinations and biases, so we need future generations to have access to multiple perspectives.
Make your own contribution
To do this we are inviting everyone, not only psychiatrists, but allied health professionals, patients, carers and interested members of the public to pitch in, to write their own ‘Annals’ and their own ‘Histories’, to share their own piece of textile in making this patchwork.
They will all be preserved in the College’s archives. There will also be prizes for the best entries.
We’re accepting entries into ‘Future Archives’ until the end of April. The project is something about which I feel very proud and excited to be a part. I earnestly wish to invite everyone to partake in it and to help make it more significant and useful for us and for posterity.
Everyone is invited! If you’re interested, just search ‘RCPsych Future Archives’. This is our chance to literally make history!