Chelsea D Chamberlain

Outdoor headshot, woman with short blond hair standing and smiling in the mountains

Ph.D. Candidate

Committee Members: 

Kathy Peiss (Advisor)

Sally Gordon

Beth Linker

Michael Rembis (University at Buffalo)


B.A. in History, Whitworth University, 2012
M.A. in History, University of Montana, 2015

Research Interests

Broadly, I am interested in the history of politics, education, medicine, and disability in the nineteenth and twentieth-century. Questions that fuel my research: How has the United States reconciled human differences and equality, care needs and inclusion? What are the productive and moral requirements of citizenship, and who gets to decide? In what ways do everyday people shape the production of expert knowledge and state power?

My dissertation, "'Receiving, Sorting, and Disposing of Children': The Place of Human Defect in Progressive America," focuses on the years 1880 to 1930. It is centered in three key sites of progressive reform: institutions for the feebleminded, diagnostic clinics, and “special” classrooms in public schools. Within these spaces, families, psycho-medical professionals, and teachers pursued conflicting ideas about the relationship between mental impairment, immoral behavior, and economic dependence. I contend that lay ideas about curability, dependence, and citizenship had the power to shape these spaces, even as reformers and psycho-medical experts worked to impose eugenic diagnostic classifications and treatment recommendations. The tense relationship between progressivism’s grand vision for society and everyday people’s hopes for themselves and their children, I show, produced new psycho-medical expertise, expanded the reach of public education, and constrained the power of compulsory eugenics.

Courses Taught

University of Pennsylvania, Graduate Teaching Assistant: History of the American South to 1865 (Fall 2016), History of the Modern American South (Spring 2017), Modern American Culture (Fall 2017), History of the American West (Spring 2018), Transformations of Urban America: Making the Unequal City (Fall 2018)

University of Montana, Graduate Teaching Assistant: Early American History Survey (Fall 2013, Fall 2014), Modern American History Survey (Spring 2014, Spring 2015)

Selected Publications

"'An Avalanche of Unexpected Sickness': Institutions and Disease in 1918 and Today," SHGAPE Blog, 2020

My secondary research interests involve questions of medical privacy, anonymity, and archival ethics. For an exploration of these issues, see "Discovery, Interrupted," Nursing Clio, Adventures in the Archives Series, 2019.

CV (file)