In our newest Career Profile meet Monique Dufour, a recent PhD who will be presenting her paper “‘The Library as Laboratory’: Bibliotherapy and the Clinical Study of Literature as Medicine, 1940–1960,” at HSS 2014 on Saturday morning (9:00AM-11:45AM) as part of the panel “The Institution as Laboratory: Captive Bodies and the Production of Scientific Knowledge” (Michigan Ballroom I, Level 2).
What is your approach to the history of science?
I explore encounters between science, medicine, and the humanities, especially in the 20th- and 21st centuries. I am curious about how and why people have tried to connect these domains and how each may have been reconstituted and transformed in the process. For instance, my dissertation, Reading for Health: Bibliotherapy and the Medicalized Humanities in the US, 1930-1965, aims to recover and explore the midcentury processes by which therapeutic reading became at once natural, medical, and scientific. I tell the story of midcentury hospital librarians, psychologists, and language arts educators who believed that reading could and should promote health, and for whom science seemed to offer the most promising way to develop knowledge about the “embodied reader.” I’m driven by topics and questions that allow me to explore how science—as an epistemological project, a cultural resource, as an article of faith—circulated.
What was your experience like at your first HSS meeting?
I first presented at HSS in 2011, when I was just starting to think about my dissertation. I came to doctoral work in Science and Technology Studies from the fields of writing, literature, and book history. As I developed my project, my advisor Matthew Wisnioski encouraged me to focus on the questions about science raised by my historical actors. “This is a history of science project,” he often told me. Because I was still learning about the history of science, I was a bit nervous about conceiving of the project in that way. But the experience of submitting that paper, presenting it, and participating in the conference was tremendous. I appreciated the collegial and genuinely curious spirit among the panelists and attendees alike, and especially the constructive feedback I received at my panel. While I came to the conference certain that the history of science was relevant to my emerging research program, I came away equally sure that this was a community of which I wanted to be a part. Anyone who has the erroneous impression that the history of science is only a specialized field for focused experts should attend HSS to experience for themselves the astonishing scope of topics, and their essential connections to cultural and social issues.
What do you see on your professional horizon?
Having just completed my PhD, I will soon be, like many of us, “on the market.” (What a phrase!) To help me through this process, I try each day to remember powerful advice given to me by a Virginia Tech colleague, Brian Britt: “Take seriously the idea of making a contribution.”
If I can paint my own horizon, I see a post-doc in which I can participate in a community of scholars, think and write together, and continue to develop my projects and research program. I then see a tenure-track position where I may build a writing and teaching life among colleagues. We all know that these goals are elusive, but I remain committed to believing that they are possible.
But as Annie Dillard says, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” So I’m working toward these goals through how I spend my days teaching and writing. Currently, I’m finishing an article for the medical humanities community about how U.S. librarians and psychologists in the 1970s deliberated quite explicitly about how to define therapeutic reading either as science-based medicine or as a humanistic practice. I’m also writing an article for a history of science and medicine audience about how literacy educators in the midcentury U.S. came to believe that it was their job to promote health. I really enjoy thinking about how my research and writing can and should change for different audiences, such as students at a range of levels and scholars from different disciplinary contexts. It keeps my writing fresh and challenging, and helps me to feel connected to others even when I’m sitting at my desk among my books and ideas.Monique Dufour is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Virginia Tech, where she is also directs the Medicine and Society minor. She holds a PhD and MS in STS, as well as an MA in English. Before her doctoral work, she directed the University Writing Program and was a faculty development consultant at VT’s Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. Previously, she was a Writing Fellow at Duke University’s University Writing Program. Her paper at this year’s HSS meeting in Chicago is a part of the panel, “The Institution as Laboratory: Captive Bodies and the Production of Scientific Knowledge.”