- 19th-Century United States
- History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
- Legal History
My research interests are focused on the making and unmaking of persons at the intersection of medicine and law. In my current project, I study how the “habitual drunkard” came to be seen as a problematic person requiring medical attention and legal restraint in order to illuminate the nineteenth-century origins of the treatment-punishment binary that continues to define present-day approaches to addiction. The concept of habitual drunkenness was predicated on a medical framing of habit. Physicians who participated in temperance reform movements defined compulsive drinking as an artificial appetite, a pathological condition of the body’s natural physiology in which the drinker lost the capacity for control over drinking. Based on these ideas, legislators and courts recognized habitual drunkenness as a form of mental unsoundness and assigned habitual drunkards guardians while life insurers worked to deny them policies. By demoting drunkards from the status of rights-bearing property-holders and limiting their ability to avail themselves and their families of the financial security provided by life insurance, civil courts and life insurers alike drew upon and deployed a combination of medical knowledge, temperance ideologies, and legal doctrine to subject drinkers and drunkenness to governance under private law.