Accounting for Insanity: A View from the Archives
Fall 2017 Legal History Workshop
- Susanna Blumenthal
Julius E. Davis Professor of Law and Professor of HistoryUniversity of Minnesota
Early in his tenure as superintendent of the Bloomingdale Asylum for the Insane in upper Manhattan, the alienist Pliny Earle sounded a note of skepticism about the epistemological foundations of his own profession: “Science is at once lost in mazes of uncertainty and ignorance whenever it attempts to fathom mind itself.” Earle’s consciousness of the problem of consciousness, reflected in his extensive published writings and personal papers, provides an especially illuminating vantage point from which to gauge the powers and limitations of the new medical psychology as it was mobilized in everyday clinical interactions between doctors and patients. Read alongside surviving medical registers, ledgers, casebooks, and court orders from the Bloomindale Asylum, this paper will explore the ethics of fabricating expert knowledge, medical, legal, and historical.
Note: This is a discussion based workshop of work-in-progress with the expectation that those attending have read the workshop materials. Please contact Jacquelyn E. Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy of the materials.