Thesis ID: CBB001567660

Soul Sleepers: A History of Somnambulism in the United States, 1740--1840 (2014)


Friedman, Kristen Anne Keerma (Author)

Harvard University
Lepore, Jill
Lepore, Jill
Rosenberg, Charles E.
Chaplin, Joyce
Rosenberg, Charles E.

Publication Date: 2014
Edition Details: Advisor: Chaplin, Joyce; Committee Members: Lepore, Jill, Rosenberg, Charles E.
Physical Details: 330 pp.
Language: English

The strange behavior of somnambulists in the United States between 1740 and 1840 attracted the attention of different emerging professional groups, each of which sought the authority to explain what the condition revealed about the role of volition in governing the human mind, and by extension, the body. Clergy, physicians, and lawyers fought with one another for interpretive rights over the embodied knowledge that somnambulists produced while in their paroxysms. Theologians hoped to use the trance state to appropriate knowledge about the afterlife from the entranced people who claimed their souls had journeyed there. Physicians wished to use somnambulists as instruments to prove theories of mind, including the basis of phrenology. They attempted to fit somnambulism into a diagnostic category with limited success. Lawyers attempted to use the embodied knowledge gathered from somnambulistic acts to create rules managing intent and culpability. Somnambulists themselves asserted authority over containing their own conditions by resisting professional attempts to use their bodies as portals to their unconscious mind. The group most successful at resistance was that of female somnambulists, each of who showed evidence of possessing a dual consciousness. The women whose cases are covered in this dissertation represent the broad failure of any profession to gain ultimate authority over explaining the problematic behavior posed by somnambulists. This dissertation also traces the history of how somnambulists came to be associated with criminality through their primary association with the "night season," a cultural framework that colonial Americans imposed on their environment to regulate disorderly conduct, especially on the part of women, young men, blacks, and Native Americans. In the United States, somnambulism was seen as a natural phenomenon. In contrast to European artificial somnambulism (a byproduct of animal magnetism), somnambulism in the United States revealed attitudes about what standards an interpreter of nature ought to hold.


Description Cited in Dissertation Abstracts International-A 75/10(E), Apr 2015. Proquest Document ID: 1557761443.

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Authors & Contributors
Rosenberg, Charles E.
Lowenthal, David
Hall, Marcus
Wilson, Renate
Helm, Jürgen
Uekoetter, Frank
IA. The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology
International Journal for the History of Engineering and Technology
Journal of the History of the Neurosciences
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Harvard University Press
Johns Hopkins University Press
University of Virginia Press
Franz Steiner Verlag
University of Pittsburgh Press
University of Chicago Press
Cross-national comparison
Environmental sciences
Management; administration
Medicine and culture
Sleepwalking, somnambulism
Marsh, Othniel Charles
Miller, Hugh
Marsh, George Perkins
Mayer, Alfred Marshall
Bell, Alexander Graham
Puységur, Armand Marie-Jacques de Chastenet, Marquis de
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
20th century
20th century, early
17th century
21st century
United States
Great Britain
Victoria Institute

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