Solitude has always been perceived as problematic: beneficial for a few; debilitating for the many. Our current health concerns about solitude are framed by this long and largely neglected history.

This project aims to remedy this neglect by undertaking the first health-related history of modern western solitude. It will yield unprecedented insights into one of humankind’s most fundamental experiences, and one of contemporary society’s most complex health challenges.

'Melancholy'. Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Oslo, Munch Museum. Public domain.

‘Who Am I With, When I Am Alone?’

Solitude and Inner Presence

Premodern solitaries were thought to be in God’s presence. Modern psychologists postulate the presence of internalised ‘others’ who populate our solitude. People who feel themselves in direct communication with such presences (such as voice-hearers) are often pathologised. Our project examines changing ideas about solitary presence and their implications for human subjectivity.

‘Sorrows of Solitude’

Solitude, Melancholy and Depression

From antiquity onward solitude has been linked to melancholy and its modern equivalent, depression. We investigate this long history and its psycho-social legacies.

'Evening (Melancholy I)'. Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Photograph © 2019. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
'Cliffs'. Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Oslo, Munch Museum. © 2019. Photo Scala, Florence.

‘Hell is Other People’

Voluntary Solitaries: Loners, Introverts, Misanthropes

People who prefer solitude to the company of others have long been regarded as eccentric, even mad. We examine this pathologisation of the reclusive self and ask whether social media is making us more or less antisocial.

‘A Living Death’

Involuntary Solitudes

Exiles, castaways, prisoners: history shows us many people who have suffered unwanted solitude. We explore this experience, past and present, and its impact on people’s physical and psychological health.

'Melancholy, 1894-1895'. Edvard Munch (1863-1944). ********, ********. © 2019. Photo Art Media/Heritage Images/Scala, Florence.
'Melancholy'. Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Oslo, Nasjonalgalleriet. © 2019. Photo Scala, Florence.

‘The Lonely Crowd’

Solitude, Loneliness and Modernity

Today loneliness is said to have reached epidemic proportions. Our project asks when and why modern people became so lonely and what can be done about it.