My dissertation, “Medical Intersections: Patients, Agency, and Disease in Early American Literature,” investigates issues of patient agency in letters, diaries, missionary tracts, and medical treatises in order to analyze the ways patients have continuously used writing and narrative strategies to shape and establish meaning for their medical experiences. My research challenges long-held notions that because early American medical knowledge is inaccurate it is without value to contemporary scholarship. While medicine and disease in early American literature have become increasingly popular fields of study, scholars limit their understanding of narrative medicine by exclusively employing presentist notions of agency; my project offers a literary history of the field of narrative medicine, thereby expanding considerations of patient agency to include texts written before the postmodern era. I argue that patients in the early Atlantic world employ narrative strategies across multiple genres in order to assert agency. If the sickroom was a marginalized space, then patients used writing to establish meaning for their conditions and to maintain connections with larger religious, social, and familial networks. Early American medical narratives are significant because they reveal alternate ways for understanding, constructing, and articulating power, authority, and knowledge through religious, scientific, and literary discourses.
I have presented research from my dissertation at two national conferences, and will be presenting my analysis of Increase Mather’s An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences (1684) through the lens of disability studies at the upcoming Society of Early Americanists Special Topics Conference. My dissertation project exploring how patients exert agency in seventeenth-century texts serves as the launching point for considering constructions of illness, disease, and disability in fiction. I have begun researching my next project, in which I will explore how fiction, especially novels, becomes a site for grappling with intersections of religion, community, identity, and illness. For instance, in Robinson Crusoe (1719) and The Female American (1767), the protagonists experience illnesses that map the risks of transculturation on their bodies, forcing them to grapple with issues of identity, empire, and health. This work builds on my dissertation by analyzing how narrative medical practices informed and shaped fictional representations of illness and identity in the early Atlantic world.
I have presented papers on a variety of topics at conferences ranging from graduate student colloquiums at Auburn University and Purdue University, to regional and national conferences for the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS), the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA), and the Society of Early Americanists (SEA).
For more information on my scholarly interests, please see my coursework page for a description of graduate courses I have taken.