LAPA Seminar - Distraction Framed: Guardianships for Mental Incapacity in Early New England
Audience:Open to the Public
Cornelia Dayton, LAPA Fellow; University of Connecticut, History. Commentator: Hendrik Hartog, Princeton University, History and American Studies.
LAPA’s seminar format asks that attendees familiarize themselves with the paper in advance. Paper copies may be picked up in 416A Robertson Hall during normal business hours.
The commentator will open 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 the floor is opened for questions. Each seminar concludes with a brief reception.
From Professor Dayton: 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.