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

Q&A: Max Perry Mueller, Race and the Making of the Mormon People

Max Perry Mueller is assistant professor of religious studies in the Department of Classics & Religious Studies of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the author of the recently-released Race and the Making of the Mormon People (University of North Carolina Press, 2017). Be sure and read Ben Park’s review of that book, posted at The Junto yesterday. Continue reading

A is for “Anthropocene”

Anthropocene wordleToday I want to pretend that I know how to read science journals, particularly a recent Nature article by scientists Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin entitled “Defining the Anthropocene.”[1] Reading a summary about the article was provocation enough to read the article itself, which in turn sparked a more extended rumination about chronology, interdisciplinarity, and scholarly divides. Continue reading

Hybrid Moments: Should there/Could there be Atlantic Musicology?

In a week I’ll be heading to Little Rock for the Society of American Music Conference, where I’ll be chairing and presenting at a session on music in the Atlantic world. My paper is titled “Strategizing Atlantic Musicology” and in it I’m discussing some of the benefits and drawbacks for incorporating ideas from Atlantic studies into musicology. (I’m also hoping to claim the Pithiest Title Prize). I thought I’d try out a few of my ideas and concerns here, and hopefully tap the collective wisdom of the Junto community.

To give a little background: I’ve been thinking about Atlantic studies and music for a while–I wrote a dissertation about how transatlantic music shaped the identities of early American communities, and wrote a musicology article that uses concepts from Atlantic history to interpret musical networks in the early modern period. I’ve also delivered conference papers on that touch on this topic. But this is the first paper I’ve written that is devoted entirely to question of how (and whether) musicology could engage with Atlantic studies. Continue reading