Elizabeth Searcy

Brown University

2014 to 2015
Research Fellow

The Unconscious Mind in America, 1880-1917

My project examines the role of the pre-Freudian unconscious in reconfiguring concepts of the individual and society in the turn-of-the-century United States. Using works of academic psychology, medico-legal texts, progressive journals, science fiction, and other sources both scholarly and popular, I argue that Americans used concepts of the unconscious to construct ambivalent models of selfhood for a modernizing age. In particular, I explore the way new theories of a suggestible, social, and depersonalized unconscious undermined traditional concepts of the autonomous liberal subject and informed contemporary interpretations of burgeoning mass society. The unconscious mind revised human nature in ways both promising and perilous, explaining alarming behaviors like imitative crime and collective violence while also offering new mechanisms for human perfectibility and social reform. Throughout, the project analyzes the new psychology of the unconscious in light of race, class, and gender constructions. Read more about Elizabeth's research as a fellow of the Consortium here.