Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Paying Attention: Imagining and Measuring a Psychological Subject in American Culture, 1886-1960
Authors: Schmidt, Benjamin
Advisors: Rodgers, Daniel
Contributors: History Department
Subjects: History
American history
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation is a study of changes in the concept of "attention" in the United States in the early twentieth century. Between 1886 and 1960, new sets of experts, inspired by new techniques from fields including academic psychology, redefined what it meant to pay attention. Attention grew increasingly important in the public eye as something that could be cultivated, controlled, and--above all--measured. The rise of ways of measuring attention--and the professional groups who found their identity in that measurement--led to shifts in the shared vocabulary of attention in the United States. Psychology played a pivotal role in this transformation, but not always the one its founders envisaged. The new understandings of attention used a psychological vo- cabulary, but one implemented by a wide range of professionals--academics, advertising men, schoolteachers--who were frequently trained in psychology, but shaped psychologi- cal terms and methods to their own end. This dissertation uses a hybrid methodology to study trends so widely distributed on a concept at once universal and barely defined. The intellectual history of psychology is traced through archival and published sources, while the emerging ideas of advertisers and educators can be found in their professional journals and through the archives of individ- ual scholars and advertising agencies. The initial chapters outline methods of practicing cultural history on newly available and massive digital archives; later chapters zoom in to particular areas where experts in education, advertising, and media changed those defini- tions in particular ways. New ways of describing attention--an idea of mental "focus," and the invention of the "attention span"--cast attention as a personal responsibility. At the same time, they pushed forward an understanding of attention as distributed in time rather than space (as the psy- chological literature had insisted). By midcentury, a range of contesting parties claimed to control attention. This created a newly explicit, uneasy sense of mastery. Americans came to believe they could and ought to work to increase their attention; but also that outsiders iii had the tools to manipulate attention without their knowing. The attention of most of their compatriots might be childlike, deficient, or worse.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

Files in This Item:
File Description SizeFormat 
Schmidt_princeton_0181D_10786.pdf15.95 MBAdobe PDFView/Download

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.