As an area of study, the history of psychiatry in Italy is of recent origin but has attracted considerable interest. It has ceased to be simply a study of past medical practice, written by medical practitioners for their colleagues, but has gained the attention of social historians and historians of science, as well as of radical psychiatrists wishing to examine critically the origin of their discipline. 1 These developments have led to a widening of perspectives, and historical work has now gone beyond the effective impasse of biographies of illustrious psychiatrists of the past on the one hand, and ‘internal histories’ carried out from a medical rather than a historical point of view on the other. 2