I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Lyon G. Tyler Department of History at the College of William and Mary. A historian of early America, I specialize in the fields of intellectual and cultural history, the history of the book, the history of science and medicine, the history of education, the history of the body, and the history of scholarship and knowledge.
My dissertation, tentatively titled “A Constant Application of the Mind: Thinking through the Body in Early America,” examines the ways in which the life of the mind intersects with the history of the body. In the dissertation, I focus especially on what Americans believed to be the physical and moral hazards associated with intense intellectual effort. In early America, throughout the Atlantic world in fact, the studious and sedentary habits associated with close study and intense intellectual application were believed by many to be the cause of a variety of illnesses and diseases. Although participants in a transatlantic republic of letters, Americans, more so than their European counterparts, subscribed to an ideal of mind-body harmony, reflecting their democratic conviction that knowledge and learning should be both socially useful and universally accessible. This ideal, however, was neither stable nor secure. My dissertation, then, chronicles the process by which Americans sought to define and negotiate the relationship between mind and body, which served also to locate the boundaries of race, class, gender, and religious orthodoxy.
In the dissertation, which explores the ways in which the body has mediated the acquisition and production of knowledge, I draw on a variety of theoretical traditions. From the pragmatism of William James and John Dewey and the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty to the post-structuralism of Foucault, all of these traditions rest on the assumption that the body is a necessary precondition for knowledge and thought, that its cultural and historical meanings are neither absolute nor fixed.