Distraction Framed

Law and Mental Disabilities in Early New England

Mon, 11/28/2016 - 4:30pm
301 Marx Hall
Event Category: 

Please join us for a LAPA Seminar with Cornelia H. Dayton *86, LAPA Fellow and Professor of History at the University of Connecticut.

LAPA’s seminar format assumes that seminar participants have familiarized themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator opens the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet.

Abstract:  "Distracted, not insane, was the adjective most widely used in the New England vernacular for those perceived to be suffering from mental or psychological trouble. This paper immerses us in how New Englanders from 1700 to the 1820s thought about and responded to “distraction.” It does so by analyzing the workings of guardianships (or conservatorships), profiling who ended up with a guardian (by gender, class, marital status, race, occupation) and to what extent the mechanism lived up to its promise to be a protective device.  Think of the paper as an exploration of 18th-century family law and care-work prior to the rise of psychiatry and asylums."

Cornelia Dayton,
LAPA Fellow
Professor of History, University of Connecticut

Cornelia H. Dayton *86 is Professor of History at the University of Connecticut.  Her most recent book, written with Sharon V. Salinger, Robert Love’s Warnings: Searching for Strangers in Colonial Boston (2014), won the Merle Curti Award for social history (Organization of American Historians) and the Littleton-Griswold Award in law and society (American Historical Society).  She is also the author of Women Before the Bar: Gender, Law, and Society in Connecticut, 1639-1789 (1995).  Much of her research draws on manuscript court records and involves reconstructing litigants’ life histories.  Research and teaching areas include women, gender, and sexuality in the early modern Atlantic; U.S. immigration policy; and 18th-century urban governance and systems of welfare and relief.  She holds an A.B. from Harvard and a Ph.D. for Princeton. At LAPA, her research will focus on legal, social, and cultural responses to mental and cognitive disabilities in New England from 1700 to the founding of the first asylums in the early 1800s, with particular attention to race, gender, and class.

Hendrik Hartog
Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty, Princeton University
Acting Director, Program in American Studies

Hendrik Hartog is the Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty and the acting director of Princeton University’s Program in American Studies. He holds a Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization from Brandeis University (1982), a J.D. from the New York University School of Law (1973), and an A.B. from Carleton College (1970). Before coming to Princeton, he taught at the University of Wisconsin Law School (1982-92) and at the Indiana University (Bloomington) School of Law (1977-82). Hartog has spent his scholarly life working in the social history of American law, obsessed with the difficulties and opportunities that come with studying how broad political and cultural themes have been expressed in ordinary legal conflicts. He has worked in a variety of areas of American legal history: on the history of city life, on the history of constitutional rights claims, on the history of marriage, and on the historiography of legal change. He is the author of Public Property and Private Power: the Corporation of the City of New York in American Law, 1730-1870 (1983), Man and Wife in America: a History(2000), and Someday All This Will Be Yours: A History of Inheritance and Old Age(2012). He is the editor of Law in the American Revolution and the Revolution in the Law (1981) and the coeditor of Law in Culture and Culture in Law (2000) and American Public Life and the Historical Imagination (2003). He has been awarded a variety of national fellowships and lectureships, and for a decade he coedited Studies in Legal History, the book series of the American Society for Legal History. He is affiliated with Princeton’s Program in Law and Public Affairs and with the Program in American Studies.