2013–2014

Hysteria in India: The Transnational History of a Medical Idea

Anthropology/History/Women's Studies

While this is an interdisciplinary project, research to be completed during this phase will involve work with textual sources, especially those found in archives (many electronic) and published texts (other phases involve interviews and analysis of ethnographic data I have already collected). I expect that the student partner would be especially involved in going through 19th and early 20th century English language periodicals (medical journals, newspapers, religious publications, and missionary journals) to locate material on the topic in question (cases involving the medical diagnosis and treatment of hysteria in India or involving travels to India, and accounts of altered states of consciousness—hypnosis, trance, spirit affliction, deity possession—in India). Much of this work will involve online archival resources, so basic search skills will be useful. Some reading of longer texts (especially secondary sources on related topics) may also be involved, which would require the ability to summarize scholarly texts and draw out key points.

This project requires sorting through a great deal of data in search of relatively small items, in the interest of both unearthing new material and tracking trends. The story I seek to tell has not been told as such, though pieces of it exist scattered in other primary and secondary material. As such, it involves data from very diverse sources, and therefore a great deal of time is required for going through material in order to find documents of interest. I can devote more of my time to close analysis of material if I have some assistance in locating sources and scanning (visually, that is, not electronically) material.

This is an interdisciplinary project, involving historical research techniques and anthropological, historical, and feminist analysis, and while a student assistant would certainly benefit by learning or enhancing technical skills including use of textual material and electronic search techniques, my sense is that the greatest benefit may be in learning to manage and synthesize diverse kinds of material. For example, for one piece of this project, I have been tracing some surprising connections between the history of Indian dance and concepts of movement affliction in global (and especially Indian) medicine and psychiatry as they both developed through the 19th and 20th centuries. This effort involves familiarity with two very different bodies of information, but, in the connections that have come to light, it has pushed me to forge links between different ways of theorizing gender and the body. For me, the ability to bridge different bodies of data to produce a historical story has been one of the most rewarding challenges of this project so far, and I expect the same would be true for an assistant.