Q&A with Sari Altschuler, Author of The Medical Imagination

Sari Altschuler is an assistant professor of English, associate director of the Humanities Center, and founding director of the minor in Health, Humanities, and Society at Northeastern University. Her book The Medical Imagination: Literature and Health in the Early United States was recently published with the University of Pennsylvania Press (2018), and her work has appeared in leading literary journals, including American LiteratureAmerican Literary History, and PMLA, as well as the Journal of the Early Republic and the medical journal the Lancet. She serves on the advisory board of American Quarterly and the editorial board of Early American Literature and recently coedited a special of Early American Literature (2017) on early American disability studies with Cristobal Silva.

JUNTO: As you know, The Junto is always interested in the experiences of junior scholars who have turned their dissertations into first books. How did your project and theorization of imaginative experimentation change over time?

SARI ALTSCHULER: Great question! This book is very different from my dissertation—but I had to write the dissertation in order to even begin to understand what was going on. The dissertation was about the collaborations of specific doctors and writers in Philadelphia. It was, in some ways, a very narrow and defined topic, which was good for a dissertation. But, when I started to think about what The Medical Imagination might be as a book, I wanted to do something more ambitious. In the dissertation I figured out that these doctors and writers were working together—in conversation—but for the book I wanted to understand the broader intellectual practice in which they were engaging. That’s how imaginative experimentation came to be at the center of the project. It’s an idea I only really began to think about as I finished the dissertation. Continue reading

Finding Its Way: Gordon Wood and the William and Mary Quarterly

007Gordon Wood’s essay, “History in Context,” published in The Weekly Standard in February 2015, whirled up a Twitterstorm. His thoughts on twenty-first-century historians’ scholarship were provocative, and many took umbrage at many of his points. One of Wood’s perhaps overlooked arguments was his statement on the William and Mary Quarterly. “The William and Mary Quarterly,” Wood argued, “now publishes articles on mestizos in 16th-century colonial Peru, patriarchal rule in post-revolutionary Montreal, the early life of Toussaint Louverture, and slaves in 16th-century Castile. The journal no longer concentrates exclusively on the origins of the United States. Without some kind of historical GPS, it is in danger of losing its way.” Was Wood’s assessment—or, perhaps more astutely, diagnosis—correct? Has the William and Mary Quarterly lost its way? To answer this question, let’s build upon yesterday’s post and crunch some numbers. Continue reading

A View from Albion

Readers of The Junto may not be familiar with the early American history scene in the UK. Hailing one from each side of the Atlantic but both working in Britain, Tom Cutterham and I have had to grapple with the problems and positives of working on the history of one continent while living on another. Here is a brief sketch of how the land lies on the other side. Continue reading

Some Thoughts on Teaching: An Interview with James H. Merrell

I first met Jim Merrell in the spring of my sophomore year at Vassar College, when I registered for his Revolutionary America class. Over the next two and a half years I took several more courses with Mr. Merrell (professors at Vassar go by “Mr.” or “Ms.,” rather than “Dr.” or “Professor”), where I received multi-page responses to my essays, and comments on my research papers with words like “Huzza!”

Eventually, I began work on my senior thesis, which he kindly agreed to supervise. During the course of that year he met with me weekly to check on my progress with research and writing. His feedback was thoughtful but tough—after receiving his comments on the first full draft, I recall needing to go to the gym to run, lift, and then swim before being able to read them calmly. His assurance “that the draft gets critical treatment that is closer to graduate school than to first or second year college. (Huzza, sez you!)” should indicate the substance of his remarks [1]. Continue reading