Review: Sari Altschuler, The Medical Imagination

Sari Altschuler, The Medical Imagination: Literature and Health in the Early United States (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018)

Today Laurel Daen reviews Sari Altschuler’s The Medical Imagination. Laurel Daen is the 2018-2020 NEH Postdoctoral Fellow at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. Her current book project is about disability, authority, and the formation of the American nation state. Laurel received her PhD from William & Mary in 2016 and was an NEH Long-term Fellow at the Massachusetts Historical Society from 2017-2018.

In the early American republic, physicians wrote poetry to try out their medical theories, writers formulated concepts that made their way into medical texts, and everyday people viewed the disciplines of medicine and literature as fundamentally intertwined. Medicine and literature were mutually constitutive and reinforcing, Sari Altschuler explains in The Medical Imagination, and their relationship was seen as crucial to the production of medical knowledge. For example, medical educators urged their students to read and write fiction with the insistence that these practices would cultivate their “microscopic eye” or ability to detect and decipher disease (4). In addition, many doctors, writers, and doctor-writers used literary forms to conduct medical research, especially about topics that were difficult to test empirically. How, for instance, was one to evaluate the workings of sympathy, the universal force commonly understood to link body part to body part in a functioning human body and person to person in a functioning society? It was through literature that early national physicians and writers engaged with these types of questions, cultivating their skills in “imaginative experimentation”—or use of the imagination to craft and assess models of health (8). Continue reading

Guest Post: “young appearance”: Assessing Age through Appearance in Early America

Holly+Headshot_2bw[2]Today’s guest post comes from Holly N.S. White (Ph.D., College of William & Mary) who is an assistant editor of Publications and Digital Projects at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and an assistant producer of Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast about Early American History. She specializes in the history of age, childhood, and youth as well as the histories of gender, family, and law in the early America. My research focuses on the definition and negotiability of age in early American law and society, which is the subject of my forthcoming first book, Negotiating American Youth: Age, Law, and Culture in the Early Nineteenth Century.

Children and adolescents are regularly described as big for their age, small for their age, or mature for their age– but what purpose does it serve to judge a person’s age against their appearance? Today, with birth certificates to prove our age it doesn’t actually mean much. But in early America, where no such formalized, institutionally supported forms of record keeping existed, appearing young or old relative to one’s age could have significant ramifications on a person’s life. Continue reading

Guest Post: Writing Alongside Your Students

Return guest poster Mairin Odle is an Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Alabama. She is currently writing a book, Skin Deep: Tattoos, Scalps, and the Contested Language of Bodies in Early America.

A few years ago, I was designing a new course, one that would fulfill a writing distribution requirement at my university. I knew I wanted to find ways to engage the class with the creative aspects of writing, not just the mechanics; I wanted to show my students how ideas develop, how revisions matter, and how classrooms could be collaborative spaces where we collectively care about our work rather than churn out assignments. So on the first day of class, I promised them (perhaps rashly) that I would write a final essay alongside them. Continue reading

Wonder and Historical Knowledge: Reflections from the Omohundro Institute Annual Conference

Today’s guest post is by Lindsay Chervinsky, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis in January 2017 and her book, The President’s Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, will be published by Harvard University Press in fall 2019.

View of the sunset from Jamestown, June 16, 2018

Over the weekend of June 14-17, historians of Early America gathered in Williamsburg, Virginia to attend the Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture’s annual conference and to celebrate the OI’s 75th anniversary. While I always come away from this conference feeling inspired, this year I returned home thinking about audience, historical knowledge, and wonder.

Continue reading

Guest Review: Benjamin Park, American Nationalisms

Skye Montgomery is a historian of the nineteenth-century United States, specializing in Anglo-American relations and the transformation of American national identity. She is currently completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Skye earned her DPhil in History at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and is revising a book manuscript entitled, Imagined Families: Anglo-American Kinship and the Formation of Southern Identity, 1830-1890.

Benjamin E. Park, American Nationalisms: Imagining Union in the Age of Revolutions, 1783-1833 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

nationalisms

In his seminal 1882 lecture, Ernest Renan posed the deceptively straightforward question, “What is a Nation?” Although recent historiography is generally more concerned with answering the adjacent questions of how and why nations come to be, scholars of European history have produced myriad reflections on Renan’s question in the decades since the Second World War. In contrast, however, histories of early America taking nationalism as their primary category of analysis have been relatively few and focused primarily upon understandings of nationalism yoked to the nation-state. Benjamin Park’s new volume, American Nationalisms: Imagining Union in the Age of Revolutions, 1783-1833, offers a convincing explanation for this omission and makes commendable strides towards rectifying it. Continue reading

Hello from the Land of Radio Silence

Greetings, faithful readers.

As you may have noticed, things have been a bit quiet here during the last few months, but much work has been going on behind the scenes. In the coming weeks, we will be adding a number of exciting new blog members—from incoming grad students to junior faculty at a broad range of institutions. In addition, we will be unveiling a new look for the blog’s website. Please bear with us as we edit the site, and get new members’ profiles up and running. Of course, our back catalog of almost 1,000 posts dealing with all aspects of early American, digital, and public history is always available. Unfortunately, these changes do mean that we will be skipping our traditional Junto March Madness; we know some of you will be disappointed, and some of you thrilled, but we hope that our new regular content will more than make up for this omission.

We will be introducing new members and our new site in mid-April. We hope to see you back here then. In the meantime, we would like to remind all of our readers that we are always looking for guest posters to contribute to the blog. For more information about how you can contribute to The Junto, click here.

CFP: The Fourteenth Annual Yale University American Art Graduate Symposium

We are pleased to share the following call for papers for The Fourteenth Annual Yale University American Art Graduate Symposium. Continue reading

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