Jeffrey Mathias  

Jeffrey Mathias 

My dissertation, tentatively titled “An Empire of Solitude: Isolation and the Human Sciences in Cold War America” examines  isolation as a Cold War matter of concern between 1948 and 1975. At mid-century, soldiers stationed in remote geographies— such as radar operators along the Arctic Distant Early Warning Line or astronauts inhabiting space cabins— were figured as uniquely at risk not only from these hazardous terrains but from the psychological effects of isolation. Laboratory and field studies of isolation, sensory deprivation, and confinement were thus a locus for anxieties about the reliability of the subject within the  monotony of Cold War modernity. The body in experimental isolation became a scientific model of the prisoner of war, the radar operator, the astronaut, and, for some, the thinking subject itself.

This research has been supported generously by NASA, the American Historical Association, the Judith Reppy Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, and the Cornell Society for the Humanities.

My dissertation has led me to develop two related side projects: a history of Cold War laboratory studies of the phenomenology of time and a history of the Lindisfarne Association, a mildly apocalyptic commune of intellectuals— most notably, cyberneticist Gregory Bateson— that, in the 1970s, was the setting for encounters between “Western science” and “Eastern mysticism.” 

Radar installation, Canadian Arctic, 1958.

Sensory deprivation experiment, Princeton, 1958.

NASA underground isolation experiment, 1970.