Recent Publications and Projects

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The Medical imagination: Literature and Health in the Early United States

In 1872, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "Science does not know its debt to imagination," words that still ring true in the worlds of health and health care today. The checklists and clinical algorithms of modern medicine leave little space for imagination, and yet we depend on creativity and ingenuity for the advancement of medicine—to diagnose unusual conditions, to innovate treatment, and to make groundbreaking discoveries. We know a great deal about the empirical aspects of medicine, but we know far less about what the medical imagination is, what it does, how it works, or how we might train it.

In The Medical Imagination, Sari Altschuler argues that this was not always so. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, doctors understood the imagination to be directly connected to health, intimately involved in healing, and central to medical discovery. In fact, for physicians and other health writers in the early United States, literature provided important forms for crafting, testing, and implementing theories of health. Reading and writing poetry trained judgment, cultivated inventiveness, sharpened observation, and supplied evidence for medical research, while novels and short stories offered new perspectives and sites for experimenting with original medical theories.

Such imaginative experimentation became most visible at moments of crisis or novelty in American medicine, such as the 1790s yellow fever epidemics, the global cholera pandemics, and the discovery of anesthesia, when conventional wisdom and standard practice failed to produce satisfying answers to pressing questions. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, health research and practice relied on a broader complex of knowing, in which imagination often worked with and alongside observation, experience, and empirical research. In reframing the historical relationship between literature and health, The Medical Imagination provides a usable past for contemporary conversations about the role of the imagination—and the humanities more broadly—in health research and practice today. (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018)

http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/15795.html

 

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"TEXTURING THE DIGITAL HUMANITIES: A MANIFESTO”

Co-authored with David Weimer.

Forthcoming in PMLA.





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"TOUCHING THE SCARLET LETTER: WHAT DISABILITY HISTORY CAN TEACH US ABOUT LITERATURE”

Forthcoming in American Literature (March 2020).

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Special Issue: "Early American Disability Studies" - Early American Literature

A special issue of Early American Literature guest edited with Cristobal Silva (Spring 2017).

https://muse.jhu.edu/issue/35968

The introduction can be found here:

https://muse.jhu.edu/article/650772

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"The Gothic Origins of Global Health" - American Literature

Read the full text of the final proof here.

Global health traces its origins back to a single moment in 1854 when John Snow stopped cholera with a map. It is a nice story, but it’s a myth, a fantasy of empiricism. The modern global health approach did begin with the nineteenth-century, worldwide cholera pandemics, but cartography was not the principal form associated with this paradigm; it was the gothic. Turning back to the mid-nineteenth-century pandemics, this essay explores the contours of an emergent global health approach on both sides of the Atlantic. It demonstrates why the gothic was the form through which this approach was narrated, how the form worked, and the effects of the genre on popular and medical knowledge. Contemporary global health has been reorganized around scientific empiricism, but elements of its gothic history remain. I conclude by suggesting the value of recuperating these gothic origins for global health today. (September 2017)

http://americanliterature.dukejournals.org/login?uri=%2Fcontent%2F89%2F3%2F557.full.pdf%2Bhtml%3Faddtocart%3Dundefinedu

Access the exhibition at    touchthispage.com   .      Touch This Page! Making Sense of the Ways We Read  is an exhibition about multisensory experiences of reading. Its central objects are 3D replicas from historical books for blind and low-vision readers printed between 1830 and 1910. Most of these archival materials live at the  Samuel P. Hayes Research Library at the Perkins School for the Blind . We hope that, by experiencing 3D-printed objects, visitors will reflect on how touch, sight, and sound contribute to experiences of reading—historically and today. Simultaneously, the story of these tactile pages guides visitors through a particular slice of disability history and current barriers to access understood through the principles of universal design.  A pop-up style version of the exhibition is being hosted simultaneously at four locations during its initial launch:  Harvard University’s Lamont Library ,  Northeastern University’s Snell Library , the  Perkins School for the Blind , and  Norman B. Leventhal Map and Education Center at the Boston Public Library  (at Copley Square). It will run from the week of January 28, 2019 through mid-April 2019. The web exhibition at  touchthispage.com  hosts all content from the physical exhibition including the files of the pages from the Perkins archive at so that anyone with access to a 3D printer can reproduce the exhibition and its objects.     Touch This Page!  is co-directed by  Sari Altschuler  (Northeastern University) and  David Weimer  (Harvard Library) and undertaken in collaboration with  Dan Cohen  at the Northeastern Library,  Waleed Meleis  at the Northeastern University College of Engineering, and  Kim Charlson ,  Jennifer Arnott , and  Jen Hale  at the Perkins School for the Blind.

Access the exhibition at touchthispage.com.

Touch This Page! Making Sense of the Ways We Read is an exhibition about multisensory experiences of reading. Its central objects are 3D replicas from historical books for blind and low-vision readers printed between 1830 and 1910. Most of these archival materials live at the Samuel P. Hayes Research Library at the Perkins School for the Blind. We hope that, by experiencing 3D-printed objects, visitors will reflect on how touch, sight, and sound contribute to experiences of reading—historically and today. Simultaneously, the story of these tactile pages guides visitors through a particular slice of disability history and current barriers to access understood through the principles of universal design.

A pop-up style version of the exhibition is being hosted simultaneously at four locations during its initial launch: Harvard University’s Lamont Library, Northeastern University’s Snell Library, the Perkins School for the Blind, and Norman B. Leventhal Map and Education Center at the Boston Public Library (at Copley Square). It will run from the week of January 28, 2019 through mid-April 2019. The web exhibition at touchthispage.com hosts all content from the physical exhibition including the files of the pages from the Perkins archive at so that anyone with access to a 3D printer can reproduce the exhibition and its objects.

Touch This Page! is co-directed by Sari Altschuler (Northeastern University) and David Weimer (Harvard Library) and undertaken in collaboration with Dan Cohen at the Northeastern Library, Waleed Meleis at the Northeastern University College of Engineering, and Kim Charlson, Jennifer Arnott, and Jen Hale at the Perkins School for the Blind.