The Case of the Mad Baby: Constructing Evidence in the Nineteenth-Century Science of Childhood

Thursday Lecture Series, Evidence

April 14, 2011 Thursday, 12:15pm EDT The Heyman Center, Columbia University

Is it possible for a baby to be “mad?” And on what grounds could you make a diagnosis? The nineteenth-century development of the sciences of psychiatry and psychology raised complex issues as to what constituted evidence in these domains, but such questions were doubly difficult when applied to the sphere of childhood. Sally Shuttleworth’s paper looked at the ways in which literary evidence was deployed in the emerging fields of child psychiatry and psychology, drawing from the novels of Eliot and Dickens, as well as autobiographical narratives. It also explored the gender wars regarding the gathering of evidence. Should the cold observing eye of masculine science be privileged over maternal knowledge and understanding? The paper concluded with discussion of the internal battles waged in the Child Study Movement of the 1890s, as different constituencies defended radically opposing models of gathering and defining evidence.