University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

History of Science and Technology/Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science Colloquium

Friday, February 13th 2009
Speaker: David Schmit, Department of Psychology, College of St. Catherine
Subject: Sympathetic Contagions and Investment Scheme Crazes; Mesmerism and Nineteenth-Century Theories of Social Influence
Refreshments served in Room 216 Physics at 3:15 p.m.

An unappreciated feature of nineteenth-century mesmerism is its role stimulating ideas about social relations and group behavior. Central to these developments is the rise of interest in sympathy. Nineteenth-century Americans made it one of their most resonant sentiments and imbued it with social agency. The prevailing view that a mesmerist could be put in sympathetic communication with entranced persons and thereby manipulate their bodies and minds raised troubling questions about the social vulnerability of people. This presentation will examine both the differentiation and development of sympathy as a social emotion and the mesmeric practices and theories addressing social vulnerability. Of particular interest is the mesmerist LaRoy Sunderland (1804-1885), who wove sympathy and mesmeric social phenomena into a psychological theory of urban crowd behavior, religious "manias" and social contagions (such as investment scheme crazes). As such, the study of mesmerism provides insights into the history of emotions and social psychology.

The weekly calendar is also available via subscription to the physics-announce mailing list, and by RSS feed.