The Unconscious Mind in America, 1880-1917


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation 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, this project argues that Americans used concepts of the unconscious to construct ambivalent models of selfhood for a modernizing age. In particular, this dissertation explores 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.