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Global Health? Rethinking Medical Humanities from the Periphery

January 20, 2015 @ 12:00 am - May 8, 2015 @ 12:00 am

Spring 2015 Faculty Development Seminar

Claire Wendland
Anthropology, UW-Madison

Neil Kodesh
History, UW-Madison

What can studies of healing from the periphery offer the humanities more broadly today? Scholarship in the medical humanities and humanistic social sciences has long focused primarily on European and North American medicine. Meanwhile, historical and anthropological studies from the postcolonial world—research on vernacular science, and studies of so-called “global” science in its colonial and post-colonial incarnations—raise questions about some of the major concepts and assumptions underpinning medical humanities work. Studies of vernacular science challenge conventional understandings of how people (lay and expert) know the body, and how that bodily knowledge develops and circulates. Scholarship on the reach, effect, and historical lineages of “global health” interventions raises questions about the intellectual and ethical underpinnings of the medical project. Examinations of postcolonial healing practices challenge the relevance of deeply embedded polarities—traditional versus modern, indigenous healing versus biomedicine, diagnosis versus therapy—that have long inspired studies of medicine and illness. The result of these intellectual transformations is that the study of health and healing in the postcolony is at a particularly vibrant and capacious moment. New frontiers of research and inquiry are developing as a result of conversations among humanists, scientists, and social scientists.

This faculty development seminar will examine humanities scholarship on health and disease; in most weeks we pair a reading based on work in Africa with a reading based on work elsewhere in the postcolonial world. We will explore the possibilities and potential pitfalls of deeper engagement by scholars working in these regions with those working on science, medicine and related topics in Europe and North America. We will also examine the ways in which different historical perspectives inform and transform our understanding of more contemporary developments, such as the emergence of medical humanitarianism and the flourishing of health-related non-governmental organizations. The seminar will be organized around key questions raised by this work.


Programmed by the Center for the Humanities and Institute for Research in the Humanities (with major support from the Office of the Dean of the College of Letters & Science), the Faculty Development Seminars in the Humanities enabled an individual tenured faculty member or a team of two tenured faculty members to lead a seminar on a topic of broad interest across the humanities. The seminar leaders received a course release for directing a seminar of other faculty members who met ten times during a semester in two-hour sessions.


January 20, 2015 @ 12:00 am
May 8, 2015 @ 12:00 am
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University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States