Document Type


Publication Date



Before the Enlightenment, the psychological symptoms which are now associated with autism were rationalized through a lens of religion and folklore. Post-Enlightenment, the term “autism” and its classification as a neurodivergence were first recorded midway through the 20th century (Zeldovich). Between these two explanations is a two-hundred-year gap in which faith-based rationalizations were shunned in the name of science, yet science had not developed a label for autism—nor was that label perhaps yet necessary, given the relative simplicity of the world compared to today. What, then, was the social appraisal of autistic-coded symptoms during those two hundred years, and how does it live on in the modern day? The answer can be found in literature of the time such as Fanny Burney’s Evelina, whose titular character exhibits many symptoms now associated with autistic women. Evelina is not autistic, but reactions to her social deficits termed “artlessness” expose the values and vulnerabilities that 18th-century society glorified in their women, ideals which can still be easily recognized in modern media.


Undergraduate Research Awards - 2024 Winner, First-year/Sophomore category