Care, compassion and courage: the museum of mental health nursing – an ethnographic archaeology


  • D.-D. Holyoake PhD MSc PG Dip BSc (Hons) BA Dip CPC Dip Child Psychol PG Cert Ed RMN

    Senior Lecturer, Corresponding author
    1. University of Wolverhampton, Walsall Campus, Walsall, West Midlands, UK
    • Correspondence:

      D.-D. Holyoake

      University of Wolverhampton

      Walsall Campus

      Boundary House

      Gorway Road


      West Midlands

      WS1 3BD



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Accessible summary

  • The traditional view of mental health nursing history as a true representation is dependent on the means and nature by which it is displayed as well as the archaeology used to unearth it. Thinking about history as neither singular nor neutral offers an alternative appreciation.
  • This article uses ethnographic research and a metaphoric framework of the museum to re-think how mental health nursing history is itself a cultural product which is consumed and dependent on the narratives used to display, promote and validate practices.
  • This article explores the idea that it is the space between and prominence of exhibits on displayed in a museum that informs the viewer of their perceived value. Thus, objective historical truth is a thing of the past, perception and persuasion. All that is left is care, compassion and courage.


Like a museum with carefully positioned exhibits mental health nursing would look different if the display of fashionable dead things in its cultural lineage were viewed through a different lens. This paper has the aim of using transcribed interview data from mental health nurses to explore how their perception of nursing culture represents a particular historical identity (pseudo names given to ensure confidentiality). The paper discusses five themes about the formation of collective identity and concludes that mental health nurses are theoretically well positioned to develop and rethink social recovery models, ideas about fragmented selves and multiple histories that the postmodern age now curates.