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New History Dissertation Roundup: Marietta Holley, Lyman Beecher, and Drug Addiction on Stage

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Editor’s note: In today’s post, we highlight a few recent dissertations on drug use among young people from around the world. These entries are part of an ongoing drug-related dissertation bibliography being compiled by Jonathon Erlen, which was formerly published in the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs journal but is now periodically featured on the Points blog. Contact Dr. Erlen through the link above.

Marietta Holley on Temperance and Women’s Rights: Framing and Interpreting a Legacy of Social Reform

Author: LaCoss, Joan Harkin

Abstract: The values of historical figures may be misconstrued when later scholars view the past through a perspective of newer facts and beliefs. Such revisionist research can apply new values to reshape understanding, but in the process may inadvertently marginalize or invalidate the original values at stake. Consequently, the interpretation of past events and cultural trends can be very different from the intended meaning of the principals involved. An examination of the life, work, and legacy of Marietta Holley exemplifies this type of skewed interpretation. As a writer, supporter of political rights for women, and advocate of social reforms in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America, Holley had ample opportunity both to express her personal values and to influence American society. Holley became a focus of twentieth century feminist scholars who framed her work to further a specific interpretation of feminist history – in the process these scholars displaced Holley’s values and the meaning of her legacy and niche in American culture. Studying Holley illuminates the creative ways through which a group can exercise freedom within a restrictive social environment, using that very creativity to challenge that environment. This thesis will address two major questions: how Holley constructed a unique personal legacy through the use of language and actions as a humorist, temperance and women’s rights proponent, and social reformer; and how a number of twentieth and twenty-first century researchers distorted her intended impact on American social and cultural development. The Holley analysts placed her within a frame of women’s rights and distanced the scholarship from an alternative interpretation that temperance was her main reform cause and the impetus behind her women’s rights stance. As this thesis will reveal, both life and literature reflected values that found expression in female involvement in the temperance and women’s rights movements. Holley believed in political and social empowerment for women, especially as that female power could be used constructively toward reform. With Holley as a focal point for the convergence of women’s history, culture, and literature, this study will explore her place in popular fiction and find alternative interpretations for the influence she hoped to have on society.

Publication year: 2016

Advisor: Johnson, Ronald

Committee members: Benton-Cohen, Katherine; Collins, Michael J.

University/institution: Georgetown University

Department: Liberal Studies

The American Pipe Dream: Drug Addiction on Stage, 1890-1940

Author: Shulman, Max

Abstract: This dissertation examines the representation of drug addiction and drug use in U.S. theatre from the 1890s to the start of the Second World War. In this, it engages with the decades in which the nation first formulated its conceptions of addiction. It is in the 1890s that addicts first appear on stage and assume a significant place in the national imaginary. Over the next fifty years, the theatre becomes an integral part of a cultural process that shapes the characterization, treatment, and legislative paradigms regarding addiction. In many cases, these paradigms that appear during the Progressive Era, Jazz Age, and Depression persist today. This study examines this history by looking at a variety of performance formats, including melodrama, vaudeville, and Jazz club acts. Ranging from the “elite” theatres of Broadway to the “lowbrow” variety stages, this research establishes connections between representational practice and an array of sources. These include the medical, legal, and literary histories related to drug use in the period. Up till now, these are the histories that scholars have recorded, but they have yet to take into account the importance of performance as it both formed and reflected other elements of culture related to drug use. It was the stage that helped push through reforms on part of the Prohibition Era activists; it was also the stage that disseminated the rapidly changing medical etiologies of addiction to the general populace. Extending beyond these regulatory and diagnostic concerns, this dissertation moves to examine addiction as a defining condition of modernity, a concept that stems from a literary legacy connected to Thomas De Quincey, Charles Baudelaire, and the Decadent writers of the fin de siècle. Throughout this history, the stage-addict served to test the limits of U.S. imagination while formulating the parameters of normal and abnormal, natural and artificial.

Degree date: 2016

Advisor: Senelick, Laurence

Committee members: Grossman, Barbara W.; Miller, Derek; Ndounou, Monica

University/institution: Tufts University

Department: Drama

The Intellectual Life of Lyman Beecher: An Intersection of Calvinism and the Enlightenment

Author: Spanjer, Daniel Ralph

Abstract: Lyman Beecher was born in rural Connecticut in 1775. Although he grew up working on a backwater farm, he rose to prominence in New England as a reformer and Congregationalist revivalist. He pastored four different churches in four different states, served in and create eleven different state and national reform societies. He founded two theological journals in Boston and served as the president of Lane Seminary, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Through a frenetic career of teaching, preaching, and organizing, Beecher maintained a very consistent worldview. Understanding that worldview sheds light on both his teaching and his social activism. It also reveals the fabric of an intellectual framework that, although foreign to modern thinkers, was popular during Beecher’s time. This dissertation seeks to explore Lyman Beecher’s worldview in order to make sense out of his career and the influence he had on American society. He firmly believed that English Enlightenment thought, best expressed by William Paley and Joseph Butler, paired with New England Calvinism, explicated by Jonathan Edwards, best prepared America’s people both for God’s work of conversion and life in a republican society. He combined Calvinism and the Enlightenment to cultivate in people the kind of beliefs that would foster a reliance on God for salvation and the voluntary pursuit of honest, frugal, temperate lifestyles. Since the future of the nation followed from the people’s belief about God and nature, he feared most the proliferation of those ideas that taught people to deny God’s moral government over the universe. By studying Beecher’s lectures, sermons, and publications, this work plans to illuminate the way that he understood his world and help explain his role in America’s development during the Early Republic.

Publication year: 2016

Advisors: Withington, Ann F.; Sweeney, Douglas A.

Committee member: Kizenko, Nadieszda

University/institution: State University of New York at Albany

Department: History


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