Hysteria in India: The Transnational History of a Medical Idea


Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars




For residence at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study during academic year 2013-2014


The history of the medical disorder known as hysteria in Europe and North America is well understood. So too are hysteria’s implications for Euro-American social structures and concepts of mind. Far less examined are histories of hysteria in non-western places, the social concerns they reflect, or the ways medical conversations beyond Europe inform global understandings of science and selves. This project traces hysteria in India from early Ayurvedic texts to contemporary clinics. It asks how hysteria has taken shape as a medical diagnosis, scientific fact, gendered form of distress, and cultural idea. Proposing that hysteria never “came to” India but “grew up” there in terms specific to South Asia, it asks what these terms tell us about the movability and multiplicity of medicine.