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

Begging for Bounty

1829-city-scatEvery day they took apart the city, and put it back together again. New Year’s Day was no different. They worked while dawn, then dusk, threaded the sky, to patch up narrow streets. Lamplighters, an urban mainstay heroicized by Maria Susanna Cummins’ fictional “Trueman Flint,” heaved up their wooden ladders to trim wicks and refill oil pans. Along with the dry-dirtman, city scavengers spread out to collect loose trash. The scene might have been Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis—and set anytime from the Revolution to the Civil War. Newspaper carriers, mostly young boys, filtered along the avenues. Tucked in sheets of newsprint, the city’s youngest workers also carried on a curious tradition: the New Year’s address. A rhyming blend of local-color writing and cultural commentary, the New Year’s address recapped the past and looked ahead. Laden with ornamental tombstone borders and often draped over double columns, each address ended with a plea for an annual gratuity. Continue reading