The Medical Humanities: It’s Not Just for Ivy League and Research One Universities

Presenting the Literature section on the Teaching Medical Humanities Panel at CHCI Medical Humanities Network Summer Symposium, University of Miami May 20, 2017

For the past three years, I have had the pleasure of participating in the Consortium for Humanities Centers and Institute’s  (CHCI) Medical Humanities Network summer conference. The Medical Humanities Network, funded with a grant from the Mellon Foundation, brings together scholars working in the field of the Medical Humanities. As stated on their web site, the network “seeks to contribute to the ways medicine and the humanities are taught and practices; to provide new models for research within and across fields; and to foster collaborations between scholars working in humanities departments and their colleagues in the health sciences.”

The network’s annual summer conferences, which have been held for the past three years, have offered lively and timely discussions surrounding the field of the medical humanities. Columbia, Dartmouth, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, UNC-Chapel Hill, King’s College-London, The Chinese University of Hong Kong are the partner institutions that initiated the Medical Humanities Network. And since the annual conferences have opened the network to institutions beyond the founding cohort, the network has been building intellectual exchange and expanding its reach in exciting ways.

Still, as the network has grown, the types of institutions represented have been mainly large research universities. This became evident when I presented at this year’s CHCI Medical Humanities Network Summer Symposium at the University of Miami.

Most presenters and perspectives have come from institutions that have medical schools and other professional health schools where humanists and physicians have the opportunity to foster connections within the field. As a faculty member based at a small research university, and as a member of an institution that falls under the CHCI’s new Network for Liberal Arts Colleges and Small Universities (LACSU Network, hereafter) I have often found myself wondering: how is “doing” medical humanities at a liberal arts college or small university, where one might be the only or one of a few doing work in the medical humanities, different from doing this work at a much larger institution? What role might LACSUs play in developing the medical humanities? What specific challenges do scholars at LACSUs face in working in the field of medical humanities? And what might be required to support our work—whether it be to develop our own scholarship, establish curricular innovations in the field, or other concerns?

I am interested in hearing from scholars and teachers like myself working at LACSUs in the field of medical humanities or health humanities. What challenges does doing this work at a LACSU present, and what opportunities are present when we work together? I propose the establishment of a working group that focuses specifically on the ways in which we might support teaching and advance research on the medical humanities at our respective institutions, and establish a space for sharing practices. Let us begin a conversation on how we can advance this important field from our unique locales and perspectives.


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