Paul Shin

Ph.D. Candidate
Department of History
Yale University;
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Medicine
University of Rochester

2010 to 2011
Dissertation Research Fellow

Insensible Souls: Mesmerism, Science, and the American Imagination, 1837-1860

Abstract. My dissertation is an intellectual and cultural history of mesmerism in America, situating its rise between the 1830s and 1850s in the wake of the second great awakening, the rise of a market economy, and medical reform. I follow mesmerism through lecture halls, sermons, medico-scientific practices, and literary and artistic works. Surprisingly understudied, mesmerism reveals the blurry lines between popular entertainment and scientific knowledge; quackery and alternative healing; between religious revival and a self-proclaimed science of the soul; and a robust intellectual engagement within and between 19th-century American science, medicine, and art. Mesmerism, widespread in antebellum American culture, has received relatively little attention by historians of science and medicine. In demonstrating its span across many domains of culture, this project illuminates more generally the fascinating, strange, and unexpected ways in which widespread interest in natural knowledge—science and medicine—was manifest in mid-19th-century American culture.