English 5008 Madness and Early American Literature
Section 001 CRN 37327
Madness and Early American Literature 1530-1800 R
More than a century before Freud, the mostly untheorized unconscious was the subject of study primarily as a bodily function. Prominent American physician Benjamin Rush theorized that most mental illness was related to circulatory problems, and he saw the American Revolution as creating unique conditions for mental health. Like his predecessor George Cheyne (author of The English Malady), Rush applied eighteenth-century thinking about the particularities of environment to yield a place- and time-specific theory of mental illness. In this course, we will read selections from Rush and Cheyne’s writings alongside a variety of fictional and nonfictional early American texts. We will read explanations of criminal behavior that rely on mental illness as a determining factor, accounts of religious experience as well as depression that involve hearing voices, and fictions that dramatize such extreme experiences. Given the richness of the subject and of currently available digital archives, great potential exists for seminar members to produce completely original research projects; seminar members will be encouraged to prepare projects worthy of public presentation and to seek venues for presenting their work beyond the class.