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.
In my dissertation, tentatively “A Constant Application of the Mind: Thinking through the Body in Early America,” I argue that the life of the mind cannot be considered apart from the history of the body. In the dissertation, I focus particularly on what Americans believed to be the physical and moral hazards associated with intense intellectual effort. In early America and throughout the Atlantic world the studious and sedentary habits associated with close study and intense intellectual application were believed to lead to a variety of illnesses and diseases. The dissertations reveals that, far from an afterthought, issues regarding health and the body preoccupied American intellectuals in the years between the settlement of British North America and the end of the antebellum period. Moreover, it calls attention to the profound ambivalence that marked Americans’ attitudes toward both mind and body.
My dissertation, which explores the ways in which the body has mediated the acquisition and production of knowledge, draws 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 assume that the body is a necessary precondition for knowledge and for thought, that its meaning is neither absolute nor fixed, and that its relationship to the mind has been the subject of ongoing historical negotiation. Throughout the dissertation, I insist that social, material, and embodied practices were not peripheral but vital to intellectual life, that they constituted it, and above all that intellectual historians cannot afford to ignore them.