SEA Junior Scholar of the Month for July 2018: Lindsey Grubbs
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
I started my PhD in post-1830 US literature, but was lured into the eighteenth century by conversations with Sari Altschuler. Questions that had always driven my research—about how we draw the line between pathology and normalcy, about contested authority between experts and their subjects—were inflected in interesting ways as I looked earlier. Then Wieland’sspontaneous combustion sealed the deal.
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
It’s not a favorite, exactly, but I’m excited to teach Tabitha Gilman Tenney’s Female Quixotism, which will be the first text in a class I’m teaching next year on madness in the nineteenth-century American novel. I can’t think of a better way to start than by talking about the fear that fiction could corrupt and damage the mind, especially the supposedly fragile female one.
What are you currently working on?
By the end of the summer I’m hoping to wrap up a complete draft of my dissertation, which tracks the relationship between literature and diagnosis in the first hundred years of American psychiatry (starting with Benjamin Rush in the 1780s). This summer I’m working on the last piece, my second chapter, which investigates how both physicians and authors use narrative to manage the threat of easily concealed “moral insanity.” Currently I’mreading for connections between diagnostic case studies from texts like Isaac Ray’s 1838 Treatise on the Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity and works by Poe that I read as psychological detective fiction, like “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Imp of the Perverse.”
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
I just finished reading Credulity, Emily Ogden’s new book on mesmerism. She does such a lovely job combining cultural history and literary analysis, and using rigorous and careful archival detail to support compelling conclusions. As I start to think about zooming back from each chapter of my dissertation to try to see the project as a whole, it was exciting to read a book with such a clear logic and readable style.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
There are many of them! But I feel especially grateful for the mentorship of Sari Altschuler, whose book The Medical Imagination is my other favorite this summer. Her work is such a strong model for how to do interdisciplinary scholarship, and she somehow still manages to be incredibly generous with her time and with helping to create platforms for the work of others.
Lindsey Grubbs is a Doctoral Candidate in English at Emory University.