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Our Writers beyond Synapsis
Today, we do not expect a symptomatic reading to refer to bodily symptoms, or a literary dissection to be more than metaphorical. But this was not always true. In Romantic Autopsy, Arden Hegele considers a moment at the turn of the nineteenth century, when literature and medicine seemed embattled in rivalry, to find that the two fields collaborated to develop interpretive analogies that saw literary texts as organic bodies and anatomical features as legible texts. Together, Romantic readers and doctors elaborated protocols of diagnosis-practices for interpretation that could be used to diagnose disease, and to understand fiction and poetry.
This volume puts essential works of British Romantic literature that seem at first to have little to do with medicine, such as the lyrics of William Wordsworth, the elegies of Percy Shelley and Alfred Tennyson, and the novels of Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Austen, and Mary Shelley, back into conversation with emergent medical disciplines of the period — anatomy, pathology, psychiatry, and semiology. Poems and novels, Hegele argues, were historically understood through techniques designed for the analysis of disease; meanwhile, autopsy reports and case histories adopted stylistic features associated with literature. Countering the assumption of a growing specialization in Romanticism, these practices suggest that symptomatic reading (treating a text’s superficial signs as evidence of deeper meaning), a practice still used and debated today, might have originated from Romantic diagnostics. The first study of the interconnected literary and medical analytics of British Romanticism, Romantic Autopsy charts an important history underlying our own approaches to literary analysis.
A new monograph on music, hypnosis, and the medical sciences in the 19th century.
Guest writer, Barbara Lock describes her experiences as an emergency room physician during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City. She takes a personal approach to how fear of illness manifested for her and her family. You can also read her interview about the peice here.
Megan Swartzfager created an interactive map to tell the statistical and human story of COVID-19 in prisons through, in the language of the website, “data from The Marshall Project, Prison Policy Initiative’s State Profiles, various news sources that are linked in the map, and personal communications with incarcerated people. ” Among the linked stories is the Justice-in-Education Program: COVID-19 special issue.
Events and Exhibitions
Tenament Museum, Digital Exhibit
Often, our understanding of contagious disease is shaped by the big picture—statistics, patterns, and summaries from public health officials. We need to look closer and find the stories of individuals who live with these illnesses, past and present. Who are they, and what are their experiences? What can their stories tell us about the understanding of sickness, and government response to public health crises, in their time?
This exhibit will trace the stories of five former residents of the Museum’s tenement buildings who lived with, and ultimately died from, contagious disease. We’ll highlight sources from three different eras to see what we can learn about these people and their experience with contagious disease. We’ll trace how their experiences were shaped by scientific knowledge, housing options, and judgements on newcomers that often blamed them for the diseases they suffered. We’ll also map community response—how did people organize, help each other, and fight for better public health response for immigrant and marginalized communities?
This digital exhibit is designed to be viewed sequentially, but for those of you who would like to jump around, you can access each section using the exhibit map link below and in the top left corner of each page. You’ll also find a bonus section featuring a timeline of contagious disease in New York City.