General:Hysteria and Creativity in Eighteenth-Century Writing by Women



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Name: Heather Meek


Tell us something about your level of study and the type of institutional appointment you hold. 
Choose any of the terms below that apply to you:
* undergrad
* grad
* part-time instructor
* pre-tenure faculty member
* tenured faculty member
* archivist-librarian
* independent scholar
* creative practitioner
* interested citizen

Role: Assistant Professor

Institution: University of Regina

Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: English


Please write a paragraph about your persona as a researcher: your position, your discipline, your general research interests, 
and the extent to which you use computers in your research. 
You may wish to mention particular tools that you use with some regularity.

I am a literary scholar and teacher specializing in eighteenth-century literature and women’s writing. My most recent work focuses on cultural, literary, and medical representations of hysteria in the Age of Reason, and I am currently exploring the relationship between illness and creativity in a group of women writers. Though I rely heavily on print texts not yet digitized, I use various databases (including Eighteenth-Century Collections Online, Google Books, JSTOR, and MLA bibliography) frequently in my research and teaching.


Please provide a short description of the larger project from which this story emerges.

Most of my work to date has focused on recovering and analyzing materials on eighteenth-century hysteria (a condition akin to modern depression). I have looked at the ways a select group of women writers engage with contemporaneous medical writing on the condition. More specifically, I have considered how the women's versions of hysteria both intersect and collide with received medical wisdom that described the condition as rooted in wandering wombs, weak nerves, and inherently disordered female bodies. Though I have used online materials to analyze medical treatises, my study of women authors has happened in the stacks. Much of the women’s writing on hysteria is scattered throughout letters, journals, and diaries absent from databases, and my work has been constrained by the limited number of print texts available to me.


I hope both to narrow and to expand the scope of my earlier work by scaling back on my exploration of male doctors’ accounts of hysteria and focusing instead on a larger, more comprehensive selection of texts by women authors. A considerable task will involve searching for relevant primary material. This search will reflect the ‘protean’ nature of eighteenth-century hysteria as I seek out accounts in various forms, including fictional works, confessional poems, diaries, letters, and political tracts. I expect to complement works I have already explored – by Elizabeth Freke, Anne Finch, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Hester Lynch Piozzi, Elizabeth Carter, and Mary Wollstonecraft – with relatively obscure texts by women discovered through the Orlando textbase.

Two connected projects will emerge from this work. First, I plan to put together an anthology of primary materials by women on eighteenth-century hysteria. Second, I will produce a complementary critical study that establishes a link between hysteria and creativity in some women writers – a relationship critics have already explored widely in the works of many male authors (consider research on the ways Jonathan Swift’s fears of madness, Samuel Johnson’s dark thoughts, James Boswell’s painful self-analysis, William Cowper’s terrors of damnation, or Christopher Smart’s religious mania spark their creativity and enrich their art).

Because of the vast number of texts I am dealing with, I will have to sift through large amounts of information and select relevant texts before moving on to a more detailed study of primary sources. The Orlando textbase will be central in this initial exploration. I expect that the British Library, the Wellcome Collection, and Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO) will house most of the works I will use in the later stages of my work.


Discovery: The first phase of this project is exploratory. I hope to unearth women’s texts on hysteria that have been hitherto neglected. Various searches on the Orlando textbase will aid me in this process. If funding allows, I will hire a student assistant to work with me in this early stage.

Selection I: I will use Orlando summaries of works and authors to narrow down primary texts and create a working bibliography.

Selection II: Consulting ECCO and library print sources (in Canada and abroad), I will pare down my bibliography of primary materials. At this stage, I will also isolate selections from individual works for the anthology.

Dialogues: Both through my primary readings, and through connections discovered on Orlando, I will look for direct dialogues between women writers, and I will explore how their ideas circulate within more complex or indirect networks of influence.

Contexts: Using Orlando as a starting point, I will investigate the larger biographical, historical, medical, and social contexts within which the women writers were producing their ideas. I hope this will enable an analysis of hysteria’s multiple discourses.

How broadly do the practices described in this story apply to others in same field, in related fields, etc?
* broadly applicable
* shared by some
* shared by few or none

Scope: These practices are broadly applicable to those working in the fields of literature and medicine, and eighteenth-century women's writing.

Does your story describe current research activities that you think CWRC will enhance (present), 
or future research possibilities that you can only dream of now? (future)

Timeline: Eighteenth Century

Please provide some keywords that will allow us to group or cluster related stories--or aspects of stories. 
Use as many of the ones listed below as relevant or provide your own.
* Aggregate
* Annotate
* Consider
* Discover
* Interact
* Publish
* Archive/Preserve
* Share
* Visualize
* Map
* Historicize
* Edit
* Network
* Collaborate
* Integrated History of Women's Writing in Canada
* Orlando

Keywords: aggregate; consider; discover; archive/preserve; share; historicize; Orlando

Are there parts of the story that relate to other CWRC stories? 
Please provide title(s) and link to the relevant story page.

Related Stories: Legal Advice to Women in the Eighteenth Century; Making 'em Laugh: Images of Law in Eighteenth-Century Popular Culture; Female Diagnosticians and Healers in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Are there tools that do some of the sorts of things you'd like to see in CWRC? 
If so, what are they?

Related Tools: ECCO, MLA Bibliography, JSTOR, Orlando, Google Books