The author analyzes the reasons for founding a museum of psychiatry in Reggio Emilia. To begin with he examines the history of the mental asylum San Lazzaro (that played a substantial role in Italian 19th century psychiatry) and also the recent history of the local community mental health services (In 1969, Reggio Emilia started to develop a community mental health policy, forerunner of the national law of 1978 entailing the closure of all psychiatric hospitals). Thereafter, he describes the recent creation of the museum, cultural heritage of two centuries of psychiatry in Reggio Emilia. The museum not only exhibits artifacts on former ‘therapeutic’ practices, but also possesses an extensive clinical documentation on inpatients - starting from 19th century - administrative records, photographic material (on patients and the asylum), and a collection of ancient books and psychiatric reviews. As a final point, the author describes the psychiatric museum’s social functions: enhance studies, research projects, and promote awareness on mental illness and societal responses.
Keywords: Psychiatric hospital, community mental health services, cultural heritage, museum, social function