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.