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Explorations in the Medical Humanities 2019: A Workshop at Columbia University

Public Humanities, Explorations in the Medical Humanities

  • Institute For Comparative Literature and Society / Medicine, Literature and Society
  • The Center for Science and Society
  • University Seminar in Affect Studies
  • University Seminar in Disability, Culture and Society
  • Columbia Global Centers | Paris
  • Free and open to the public
  • No registration necessary
  • First come, first seated

As a set of disciplines, the humanities face the challenge of how to write about embodied experiences that resist easy verbal categorization such as illness, pain, and healing. The recent emergence of interdisciplinary frameworks such as narrative medicine has offered a set of methodological approaches to address these challenges. Conceptualizing a field of medical humanities provides a broad umbrella under which to study the influence of medico-scientific ideas and practices on society. Whether by incorporating material culture such as medical artefacts, performing symptomatic readings of poems and novels, or excavating the implicit medical assumptions underlying auditory cultures, the approaches that emerge from a historiographical or interpretive framework are different from those coming from the physician’s black bag.

This two-day workshop will continue the work of the Explorations in the Medical Humanities lecture series from 2017-2018, with a new emphasis on creating an interdisciplinary conversation between scholars from a variety of institutions. By bringing scholars working in the medical humanities to Columbia and inviting them to present their work-in-progress to our local experts, our workshop will explore the enigma of how what we write relates back to the experience of bodies in different stages of health and disease. Our speakers will explore how the medical humanities build on and revise earlier notions of the “medical arts.” At stake are the problems of representation and the interpretation of cultural products from the past and present through medical models, and the challenge of establishing a set of humanistic competencies (observation, attention, judgment, narrative, historical perspective, ethics, creativity) that can inform medical practice.

Unless otherwise noted, all events will take place in the Heyman Center for the Humanities, Second Floor Common Room.


Friday, March 29

1:00 Welcome

1:15 - 2:45 Beyond Physicians: Health and Individual Responsibility in History

Meg Leja (Binghamton U), “Ritualizing Habits: Patterns and Pronouncements of Bodily Expertise.”

Alex Chase-Levenson (U Penn), “Morals, Habits, and Plagues: Self-Regulation and Epidemic Disease in the Nineteenth Century”

Respondent: Heidi Hausse (Auburn University)
Chair: Tillmann Taape (History)

2:45-3:00 Coffee Break

3:00 Welcome by Sarah Cole, Dean of Humanities (Columbia University)

3:15-4:45 Medical Archives: A Postmortem

Guillaume Lachenal (Université Paris Diderot/and Sciences Po), “Archival tourism in global health land: Archeological approaches of colonial medical archives in central Africa.”

Alexandra Bacopoulos-Viau (McGill University / Weill Cornell Medicine), “Archive Fever Redux: Reflections on the History of Psychiatry”

Respondent: Joelle Abi-Rached (SOF/Heyman)
Chair: Kavita Sivaramakrishnan (Mailman School of Public Health)

4:45-5:00 Coffee Break

5:00-6:30 Syllabus Design Collaborative Roundtable

Roanne Kantor (Stanford, Comparative Literature)

Nicole Wallack (University Writing Program)

Rishi Goyal (ICLS-Medicine, Literature and Society)

Chair: Lan Li (CSS/PSSN)

Saturday, March 30

9:00 Breakfast

9:30-11:00 Mind-Body Problems

Matthew Rebhorn (James Madison University), “80 Ounces of Blood, or, Notes towards a Neural Literary History of Antebellum America”

Zoe Wool (Rice University), “Homunculus Revolts”

Respondent: David Hayes (Union College)
Chair: Rishi Goyal (ICLS-Medicine, Literature and Society, Columbia)

11:00-11:15 Coffee Break

11:15-12:45 Miracle and Experiment

Rob Boddice (Freie Universität Berlin / McGill University), “Representing Experiment: Medical Science and the Art of Public Relations, 1908-14”

Respondent: Thomas Dodman (French)
Chair: Warren Kluber (SOF/Heyman Graduate Fellow)

12:45-2:00 Lunch

2:00-3:30 New Books in the Health Humanities

Sasha Turner (Quinnipiac U), Contested Bodies: Pregnancy, Childrearing and Slavery in Jamaica (2017)

Deirdre Cooper Owens (CUNY, Queens College), Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology (2017)

Respondents: Christopher Florio (SOF/Heyman) & Cristobal Silva (English and Comparative Literature)
Chair: Arden Hegele (SOF/Heyman)​

3:30-4:00pm Closing Discussion

4:00pm Reception