Before the nineteenth century, the term ‘normal’ was rarely associated with human behaviour. Normal was a term used in maths, for right angles. But from the 1830s, this strange branch of science really took off across Europe and North America, with a proliferation of IQ tests, sex studies, body measurements and even a UK beauty map (which concluded the women in Aberdeen were “the most repellent”).
Sarah Chaney tells the surprising history of how the very notion of the normal came about and how it shaped us all, often while entrenching oppressive, colonialist values. From the 1889 Census of Hallucinations through Theo Hyslop’s “Great Abnormals” to the sudden appearance of the claim that 1 in 4 of us experience a mental disorder in our lifetimes, the boundaries of the so-called normal mind have long been complicated. Sarah looks at why we’re still asking the internet if our minds are normal and challenges why we ever thought it might be a desirable thing to be.