Events

The Medical Imagination: Literature and Health in the Early United States

Public Humanities, Explorations in the Medical Humanities

February 5, 2018 Monday, 6:00pm–7:30pm EST The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
Cosponsors
  • Institute for Comparative Literature and Society
  • The Center for Science and Society
Organizer
  • Arden Hegele

In 1872, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "Science does not know its debt to imagination," words that still ring true in the worlds of health and health care today. We know a great deal about the empirical aspects of medicine, but we know far less about what the medical imagination is, what it does, how it works, or how we might train it. But it was not always so. In this lecture, Sari Altschuler will be talking about her new book on the history of the medical imagination. During the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States, doctors understood the imagination to be directly connected to health, intimately involved in healing, and central to medical discovery. Literature provided health writers important forms for crafting, testing, and implementing theories of health. Reading and writing poetry trained judgment, cultivated inventiveness, sharpened observation, and supplied evidence for medical research, while novels and short stories offered new sites for experimenting with original medical theories. Health research and practice relied on a broader complex of knowing, in which imagination often worked with observation, experience, and empirical research. In reframing the historical relationship between literature and health, The Medical Imagination provides a usable past for our own conversations about the imagination and the humanities in health research and practice today.

Participants
  • Speaker Sari Altschuler Assistant Professor of English Northeastern University
  • Discussant Branka Arsić Director of Graduate Studies, Charles and Lynn Zhang Professor of English and Comparative Literature Columbia University
  • Moderator Arden Hegele Lecturer in English Columbia University