To mark the launch of the Medical Humanities major at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, we are proposing an inaugural virtual series, “Medical Humanities and Pandemic Urbanisms,” which will serve as an essential rallying point for Columbia faculty, current students, and alumni of the Medicine, Literature and Society track. While urban life has been overturned by the pandemic, this crisis invites us to think more broadly how the urban is an emergent form that can be redesigned to promote life and human flourishing. Featuring scholars, activists and artists from a range of fields—from epidemiology to science fiction to urban planning—the series will both illustrate the imaginative possibilities of the Medical Humanities, while also grounding its activities in the community-building work of students at Columbia University in the City of New York.
Medical Humanities engages with humanities and social sciences disciplines like history, English, anthropology, and sociology, as well as scientific fields like biology, genetics, neuroscience and biomedical engineering to emphasize the vulnerability of human bodies, the heterogeneity of anti- essentialist approaches to biology, and the social and cultural determinants of health. The work of humanities students in fields like reproductive justice, gender studies or race and ethnicity directly benefits from an understanding of biologic concepts such as gametogenesis, CRISPR technology, and mRNA platforms. Meanwhile, the study of science and medicine benefits from a sensitivity to rhetoric, structure, narrative and ambiguity. The intersection of medicine and the humanities provides a meaningful opportunity to engage humanities students with the problems of the world and practical knowledge, while introducing would-be scientists to the habits of mind and structures of feeling of the humanities.
Such interdisciplinary thinking has become even more pressing in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which provides an unexpected backdrop for the launch of the Medical Humanities major. Thinking with this context, “Medical Humanities and Pandemic Urbanisms” will take on the challenge of building our community of scholars and students in a virtual, dislocated environment.
The pandemic has reactivated hidden circuits of racialization and social differentiation. The very conditions of living with the virus have posed new questions about the limits of the human, and the possibility of sociability. As an early epicenter, New York City has been forced to question anew its contested globality—both global capital and its dependence on labor and precarity. Over six weeks, the series will pick up these themes related to New York City and its global peers; pandemic urbanisms; race, climate, and housing; and utopian/dystopian imaginaries.
The series begins with opening keynotes by Ari Larissa Heinrich on the long history of anti-Asian bias in epidemic—culminating with Covid-19. Zeynep Tufekci will present a second keynote on the pandemic and the city. Over the following weeks, we will host a series of events, such as panels on indoor/outdoor urban spaces and indigenous urban activism, and a book panel that considers the Covid-19 pandemic in its historical and imperial context. We will host a design challenge led by guest faculty facilitators and alumni of Medicine, Literature and Society, with a prize for the best student contribution. And lastly, we will elaborate on the theme of utopian imagination with a final roundtable event featuring BIPOC fantasy writers in the academy.
Co-sponsored by the Center for Science and Society and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society.
This event is a part of our “Medical Humanities and Pandemic Urbanisms” series celebrating the launch of our new Medical Humanities major. Learn more about the major here.
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