Alan Richardson 
Department of English, Boston College
February 1998
Toward a Neural Historicism

Work in cognitive neuroscience over the past two decades suggests that psychic structures and functions may show a significant degree of uniformity across cultures and over time.  However, an equally significant role has been left for the shaping and attunement of the human psyche within a specific sociocultural environment, not to mention the effect that the dominant understanding of the psyche within a given cultural moment would have upon the interpretation of mental life (whatever its given or invariant aspects).  Literary historians have as yet made only scattered attempts to begin gauging the significance of this interplay of cognitive universals and cultural difference, as can be seen in the work of Revuen Tsur and David Hermann, though Ellen Spolsky has made a more thorough attempt to relate findings and speculation from cognitive neuroscience to the discipline of literary history itself.  Psychologists like David Rubin and psychiatrists like Kay Jamison have made contributions of their own, but with little or no reference to poststructuralist work in literary history.  Looking at work-in-progress by Mary Crane on Shakespeare (particulary her forthcoming article on  Measure for Measure) and describing my own book-in-progress on British Romantic culture and the brain, I will outline two related attempts to pursue literary scholarship with both historicist and cognitive-neuroscientific research and paradigms in mind.
Alan Richardson is Professor in the Department of English at Boston College.

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