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Asylum on the Hill: History of a Healing Landscape Hardcover – March 20, 2012

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Asylum on the Hill: History of a Healing Landscape + The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States (Architecture, Landscape and Amer Culture) + Ten Days in a Mad-House
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 204 pages
  • Publisher: Ohio University Press; 1 edition (March 20, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0821419730
  • ISBN-13: 978-0821419731
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.7 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #509,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


 “Anyone who peruses Ziff’s work will not have an easy time putting it down. This book is more than a history of a time, a place, a movement, and a people. It is instead a sensitive and centered examination . . . her portraits of people who influenced the asylum are wonderfully rendered . . . alive and moving.”
— Samuel T. Gladding, Wake Forest University


Asylum On The Hill is a fascinating and poignant history of one hospital, its patients and staff. Accompanied by rare, never released photos and records, Ziff’s easy narrative weaves the personal accounts of daily life with the broader context of post-Civil War America. What’s truly remarkable about Ziff’s book is that it tells a parallel story of our nation’s history and the forces that shaped not only the asylums but also the many other fundamental public institutions that survive today. A highly engaging work that makes the past come alive.”
— Christopher Payne, author of Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals

“This well-written, accurately researched historical work tells the story of the Athens Lunatic Asylum… . This is a work that brings the reader inside the life and times of patient care in Ohio. Asylum on the Hill is highly readable, enlightening, and for those who currently work in the field of psychiatry, the story is familiar and somewhat poignant… . Highly recommended.”

“Ziff’s narrative—skillfully interwoven with period photos and excerpts from letters and reports—keeps the reader firmly rooted in the benevolent mindset of the time. While also covering negative aspects such as endemic political patronage and eventual overcrowding, it is, nevertheless, a lovely glimpse at a kinder and gentler time in Ohio’s treatment of its mentally ill.”
— Thomas Walker, Ohio Today

“Katherine Ziff’s fascinating Asylum on the Hillconcentrates on the first 20 years of the institution, from 1874 to 1893, when it was a cutting-edge example of progressive care for the mentally ill.… Ziff’s detailed research into patient records and letters yields tantalizing glimpses into the lives of those taken into the asylum, as well as those of staff members.… The volume is amply illustrated with period photographs, reproductions of letters, maps, tables and postcards.”
The Columbus Dispatch

“By telling the story of one institution, Ziff places in context the larger picture of how professionals and the lay public thought about and cared for less fortunate individuals. Readers with diverse interests such as the history of psychiatry, medico-sociological analysis, and mid-to-late nineteenth century politics will enjoy this book.”

“Asylum on the Hill provides a valuable contribution to nineteenth-century American history and to the history of medicine.”
Indiana Magazine of History

“People interested in the history of Ohio University’s Ridges property—and there are many such in this area—may think they’ve struck a gold mine if they open a new book issued by the OU Press.”
The Athens News

About the Author

2013 Ohioana Book Award Finalist

Katherine Ziff is a scholar of psychiatric history and asylums. She is a public school mental health counselor and an artist. Ziff has published articles in History of Psychiatry, Counselor Education and Supervision, Creativity in Mental Health, New Research in Mental Health, and elsewhere. 

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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The book brought back a lot of memories.
Sharon W
Readers interested in the history of psychiatry, as well in U.S. history in general, will find much to like in this book.
Amazon Customer
I am a resident of Athens Ohio, the town in which the Asylum featured in Ms. Ziff's book is located.
Ann M.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Although I reside in the same community as the author, have a keen interest in the same subject-matter and have myself written a book about local medical history, I have never actually met Katherine Ziff. Therefore, I was pleased when she invited me to write a review of her book for Amazon.

Asylum on the Hill is an attractive and generously illustrated hardcover volume. It provides a delightful ride, as if by time-machine, into the nineteenth century world of the Athens Lunatic Asylum, which admitted its first patients in 1874. The asylum still stands as one of the best-preserved buildings of its kind in the U.S., looming commandingly over the city of Athens, Ohio, where it continues to elicit wonder from both residents and visitors alike.

The Athens Lunatic Asylum was one of just three mental hospitals in Ohio ever built according to the model of Thomas Kirkbride. Kirkbride was a Philadelphia psychiatrist and the most important proponent in the U.S. for a philosophy of mental health care known as "moral treatment." Moral treatment involved calm, compassionate, respectful interactions with patients in an attractive, imposing building with fine views. Kirkbride believed that in such an environment, patients could internalize habits of an orderly household. Kirkbride also had strong ideas about how mental hospitals should be constructed; his model featured a massive, central reception and administrative structure, flanked on both sides by wings containing wards for patients, men on one side and women on the other.

The author weaves a compelling narrative from diverse threads of biography, sociology, politics, architecture and even botany, zooming in to reveal particular, vivid details, and then zooming out again to show the more general context.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ann M. on April 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I am a resident of Athens Ohio, the town in which the Asylum featured in Ms. Ziff's book is located. I heard about the book being written and looked forward to the publication date for the past year. In 1985 I lived behind the Asylum and spent many hours wandering it's grounds and, if truth be told, numerous days and nights sneaking into the many buildings. I just finished reading Asylum on the Hill and thoroughly enjoyed the book!

Ms. Ziff told the history of the institution in a personalized and highly readable manner which also seemed to stick to the facts. I appreciated the way in which she wove personal stories and individual narratives throughout the book without sensationalizing the situations. She does not speculate and infer, rather she takes the small details she found through years of research and presents them straightforwardly. She treated all information with great respect for the subjects she wrote about. I also liked the fact that she published a document of such interest without imposing a moralizing opinion. The reader is left feeling that they have learned so much about the mission and the actual operation of the Asylum that they can make there own assumptions, if they wish.

I loved the sheer amount of data and factual records that she wrote about regarding many different aspects of the institution. This book not only covers the type of care and treatment of the patients, the philosophy of Moral Treatment Therapy in the early years of the institution, it also covers the physical elements of the building, the development of the grounds, the numbers and records relating to costs and tons of figures regarding everything from food grown in the gardens to number of lobotomy's preformed in 1953.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By flo on May 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Author, Katherine Ziff has done a remarkable thing in this book "Asylum on the Hill History of a Healing Landscape". She has written a well researched and engaging book that appeals to a wide range of readers. There is something in it for anyone who is interested in Psychology, Sociology, History, Economics, Agriculture and Politics. I was mainly drawn to this book for the information on the "moral treatment" of people with mental illnesses which had it's heyday in the latter part of the 19th century . I always wondered how it came about and why it faded out so quickly.
This book gives an excellent overview of how it all unfolded. Many good ideas, which spring from the noblest of intentions eventually are undone by their own success, human failings or changing political and economic forces. It is a tragic tale." Moral treatment" for the mentally ill was a nationwide movement and there were Thomas Kirkbribe designed institutions in nearly every state, Ohio had five. The asylum in Athens is one of the few surviving "Kirkbrides" and one of the only ones to be successfully re-purposed by Ohio University and saved from the wrecking ball. The story of the "Athens Lunatic Asylum" as it was known for a time, is fascinating and big enough to fill many books. Once I started reading, I could not put it down and once I finished it, I found myself wishing that the kind of visionaries, who originated such undertakings, in the world, were among us now.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A more comprehensive presentation of past-age psychiatric institutions, practices, practitioners, and patients is hard to imagine. Ms. Ziff has researched a masterpiece for conception, which her writing "orchestrates" for the reader as "audience of envisionment".. The scope of the facts and data within the expanse of depiction and description -- well, what can I say beyond . . .add another star!
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