The minor in medical humanities draws on courses from a variety of departments and programs, including art history, classics, history, languages and literature, music, philosophy, and gender and sexuality studies. The minor is housed in the Washington University Center for the Humanities.
The minor approaches health, disease and medical care as culturally embedded human experiences that vary across time and place. In addition to exploring health, disease and medical care as core human experiences, the program of study is designed to provide a solid grounding in the textual-historical approach essential to all humanities scholarship. The minor combines disciplinary diversity with thematic unity to engage students with a set of tightly related "big" topics and issues. These include the contested meanings of health and disease; the ethical dimensions of medicine; illness narratives; debates over health and development; the role of medicine in war, empire and nation building; the relationship between religion and medicine; exchange and friction between biomedicine and other healing traditions; and the burden of disease as it relates to gender, race and class.
Medical Humanities aspires to instill the values shared by all humanities disciplines: to appreciate multiple worlds and viewpoints, to communicate clearly and gracefully, and to read and think critically. Students will emerge from the minor able to apply the insights and critical methods of literature, philosophy, history and the arts to subjects often left solely to the natural and social sciences. Its goal is to demonstrate the enduring relevance of humanistic inquiry to understanding a basic realm of human experience.
|Contact:||Wendy Love Anderson|
Medical humanities is an interdepartmental minor; Washington University does not offer an independent major in medical humanities.
The Minor in Medical Humanities
Units required: 18
At least one gateway course (3 units) is required for the minor. These include the following:
|MedH 130||The Art of Medicine||3|
|MedH 151||First-Year Seminar: Stories of Medicine||3|
|History 1640||Health and Disease in World History||3|
|MedH 233F||Biomedical Ethics||3|
An additional 15 units of Medical Humanities courses are required to complete the minor: At least 12 of these units must be core courses, designated by the "CFH MH" attribute, whereas the remaining 3 credits can come from either the core or affiliate lists shown below. At least 9 units of core courses must be at the 300 level or above. Core courses include the gateway courses, as well as the following:
|MedH 126||Chinese for Medical Purposes||3|
|MedH 3001||Philosophy of Medicine||3|
|MedH 301R||Historical Methods — European History (when offered as The Black Death and the Plague in Europe)||3|
|MedH 3031||Music and Healing||3|
|MedH 3033||Religion and Healing||3|
|WGSS 3041||Making Sex and Gender: Understanding the History of the Body||3|
|MedH 3044||Humors, Pox, and Plague: Medieval and Early Modern Medicine||3|
|History 3067||Topics in the History of Medicine: History of Madness||3|
|MedH 307||Writing and Medicine||3|
|MedH 310||From Hysteria to Hysterectomy: Women's Health Care in America||3|
|MedH 312W||Topics in English and American Literature: The Body in Pain||3|
|IS 326||The Doctor Is In: Anton Chekhov and Narrative Medicine (U43)||3|
|MedH 353||Medical Spanish||3|
|MedH 360||Trans* Studies||3|
|Phil 366||Art and the Mind-Brain||3|
|MedH 3672||Medicine, Healing and Experimentation in the Contours of Black History||3|
|ELit 370||The Writing and Representation of Pain (U65)||3|
|MedH 375||Medical Narratives, Narrative Medicine||3|
|MedH 3801||Ancient Greek and Roman Medicine||3|
|MedH 385||What is Medical Humanities?||3|
|MedH 391W||Literature and Medicine||3|
|MedH 408||Disease, Madness, and Death Italian Style||3|
|MedH 418||Sexuality and Gender in East Asian Religions (when offered as "The Body in Daoism")||3|
|MedH 423||Philosophy of Biological Science||3|
|Drama 456||A Madman in the Theater: The History of Insanity on Stage from Sophocles to Shaffer||3|
|MedH 4647||Ancient Madness||3|
|MedH 468||Topics in French Literature: Disability Studies, Before "Disability"||3|
|MedH 474||Frankenstein: Origins and Afterlives||3|
|MedH 4885||Advanced Seminar: Medicine, Disease, and Empire||3|
|MedH 491||Staging Illness||3|
|MedH 4990||Advanced Seminar: History of the Body||3|
|History 49CJ||Advanced Seminar: Medicine on the Frontiers||3|
Note: The 9 credits of advanced medical humanities core courses (at the 300 level or above) must also come from at least two of six different disciplinary categories: Classics & Art History; History; Languages/Literature/Culture; Performing Arts & Music; Philosophy & Religious Studies; and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. (The interdisciplinary "What is Medical Humanities?" course, MedH 385, can count toward any of these disciplinary categories.) Core courses may also require additional prerequisites within their home departments or programs.
Up to 3 units of affiliate courses from complementary disciplines in the sciences and social sciences (designated by the "CFH MHA" attribute) may be applied to the minor. These include the following:
|SOC 2510||Sociological Approaches to American Health Care||3|
|SOC 2520||Inequality By Design: Understanding Racial/Ethnic Health Disparities||3|
|Anthro 3283||Introduction to Global Health||3|
|Anthro 3310||Health, Healing and Ethics: Introduction to Medical Anthropology||3|
|Anthro 3620||Anthropological Perspectives on the Fetus||3|
|Anthro 3626||Adventures in Nosology: The Nature and Meaning of Disease||3|
|Psych 399||Living, Dying, and Death: A Biopsychosocial Approach to Understanding the End of Life||3|
|Anthro 4033||Culture, Illness and Healing in Asia||3|
The most up-to-date list of medical humanities courses and medical humanities affiliate courses can be found by searching Washington University Course Listings for the "CFH MH" and "CFH MHA" attributes or by consulting the course requirements online.
Medical Humanities began listing courses under the L85 MedH designation in spring 2017; we are adding new courses to that designation as they are offered, but some potential Medical Humanities courses may not be represented in the list below, while others are only crosslisted into Medical Humanities when they address a certain topic. For a more complete overview of Medical Humanities courses in any given semester, please search Course Listings for the CFH MH (Medical Humanities) and CFH MHA (Medical Humanities: Affiliate) attributes.
Visit online course listings to view semester offerings for L85 MedH.
L85 MedH 126 Chinese for Medical Purposes
This course is the continuation of Beginning Chinese taught in the fall at the Shanghai Fudan program. The spring course is targeted specifically to pre-medicine and/ or health care students who have studied at the Shanghai Fudan program in the fall. Students without the Fudan experience can also enroll after language evaluation. Prerequisites: L04 101D, L04 117F or the equivalent.
Same as L04 Chinese 126
L85 MedH 130 The Art of Medicine
This interdisciplinary, cross-school course at the intersection of history and the visual arts offers students a singular encounter with the Western medical tradition. In tandem with the history of medicine, from ancient plagues to modern germ theory, this course examines the capacity of the arts to frame medical practice and to raise questions about and influence perceptions -- both positively and negatively -- of medical advancements. Core faculty come from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and the College of Arts & Sciences, and collaborating faculty include biomedical ethicists, artists, medical practitioners, and public health leaders. This course is for first-year (non-transfer) students only.
Same as I60 BEYOND 130
L85 MedH 233F Biomedical Ethics
A critical examination, in the light of contemporary moral disagreements and traditional ethical theories, of some of the moral issues arising out of medical practice and experimentation in our society. Issues that might be discussed include euthanasia, genetic engineering, organ transplants, medical malpractice, the allocation of medical resources, and the rights of the patient.
Same as L30 Phil 233F
L85 MedH 3001 Philosophy of Medicine
Philosophy of medicine is an investigation into what doctors know, and how they know it. This course will investigate the following questions: What is disease? What is health? How do we classify disease? What counts as good evidence and good evidential reasoning in medicine? Is medicine a science? If so, what makes it distinctive as a science? What kinds of evidential roles do case studies play in medicine? How ought we to measure and compare outcomes in clinical trials and in systematic reviews? What is the appropriate relationship between medicine and the basic sciences, or, medicine and the public health sciences (e.g., epidemiology, biostatistics, economics, and behavioral science)? What role, if any, ought private industry - such as the pharmaceutical industry, or health insurance industry - play in shaping the practice of medicine? How ought we to define and measure "effectiveness" in medicine? Do values inform decision making about health policy, and if so, how? The overall goal of the course is to develop a reasoned, reflective approach to research and practice in medicine, through critical analysis of texts, and case studies in the history of medicine. You do not need a major in philosophy or background in philosophy to take this course. This course is intended to be of special interest to pre-health professionals, or philosophy or science majors. For graduate students in philosophy, this course satisfies the seminar requirement. Extra assignments will be provided to satisfy graduate coursework; please see me for details.
Same as L30 Phil 3001
L85 MedH 301R Historical Methods — European History
This is a small-group reading course in which students are introduced to the skills essential to the historian's craft. Emphasis will be on acquiring research skills, learning to read historical works critically, and learning to use primary and secondary sources to make a persuasive and original argument. See Course Listings for current topics. Required for history majors. Preference given to History majors; other interested students welcome.
L85 MedH 3031 Music and Healing
In this course, we broadly consider issues of music and healing, drawing from the fields of medical ethnomusicology, medical anthropology, music therapy, and psychology. Our case studies are multi-sited, as we interrogate musical healings and healing music from diverse global and historical perspectives. We approach our study of musical practices with the understanding that the social, cultural and political contexts where "music" and "healing" are themselves created inform the sounds of the music and its various — and often conflicting — interpretations and meanings. We read a variety of academic literature and use media texts and listening examples to develop interdisciplinary and cross-cultural analyses of music and healing. Issues of national consciousness, postcolonialism, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, religion, dis/ability and the role of history/memory remain central to our explorations of music and healing.
Same as L27 Music 3031
L85 MedH 3033 Religion and Healing
This course explores the relationship between religion and healing through historical and comparative study of Christian, Jewish and other religious traditions. We will examine how specific religious worldviews influence conceptions of the body and associated healing practices, how states of health and disease are identified and invested with religious significance, and how religious thought contributed to and coexisted alongside the growth of modern Western medicine. While much of the course will draw on specific case studies, students will be encouraged to pursue their own interests in the area of religion and healing through final projects.
Same as L23 Re St 3033
L85 MedH 3041 Making Sex and Gender: Understanding the History of the Body
This course provides an overview of the history of the body from antiquity to modern times using an interdisciplinary approach. By exploring selections from medical texts, literature, fashion, art, accounts of "new world" exploration, legal records, self-help books and contemporary media representations of human bodies, we will consider the changing historical perception of the body. The intersection of gender, race and class will factor significantly in our discussions of how the body has been construed historically and how it is currently being constructed in contemporary American culture. This course will also provide an introduction to feminist/gender methodologies that apply to understanding the history of the body. This course is not open to students who have taken L77 204. Prerequisite: Any -100 or -200 level Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies course or permission of instructor.
Same as L77 WGSS 3041
L85 MedH 3044 Humors, Pox, and Plague: Medieval and Early Modern Medicine
This course examines how people thought about, experienced and managed disease in the medieval and early modern periods. Students will consider developments in learned medicine alongside the activities of a diverse range of practitioners — e.g., surgeons, empirics, quacks, midwives, saints, and local healers — involved in the business of curing a wide range of ailments. Significant attention will be paid to the experiences of patients and the social and cultural significance of disease. Major topics include: the rise and fall of humoral medicine; religious explanations of illness; diseases such as leprosy, syphilis and plague; the rise of anatomy; herbs and pharmaceuticals; the experience of childbirth; and the emergence of identifiably "modern" institutions such as hospitals, the medical profession, and public health. The focus will be on Western Europe but we'll also consider developments in the Islamic world and the Americas.
Same as L22 History 3044
L85 MedH 3067 Current Topics in the History of Medicine
Mental health -- its diagnosis, social implications, and experience -- is a central and increasingly visible part of the practice of medicine. This course explores "madness." How have different societies explained and responded to states of mind, behavior, and emotion judged to be unreasonable? What role has medicine played in framing understandings about mental disorders and their management? During this course we will engage these questions, charting the shifting experience of mental illness roughly from the Middle Ages to the present. Themes covered include: religious models of madness; humoral medicine and disorders such as melancholy; the pre-modern madhouse and the emergence of the modern asylum; the history of psychiatry; the insanity defense in the courtroom; patient autobiography; gender, race, and mental health.
Same as L22 History 3067
L85 MedH 307 Writing and Medicine
Same as L13 Writing 307
L85 MedH 310 From Hysteria to Hysterectomy: Women's Health Care in America
This course examines issues surrounding women's health care in America. While the scope is broad, the major emphasis will be on the 19th and 20th centuries. Through an examination of popular writing, scientific/medical writing, letters, diaries and fiction, we will look at the changing perceptions and conceptions of women's bodies and health in America.
Same as L77 WGSS 310
L85 MedH 312W Topics in English and American Literature: The Body in Pain
Since Elaine Scarry's "The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World," there has been an abundance of interdisciplinary work dedicated to the representation of pain at every level, from private suffering to public policy. How do we pathologize our feelings, and how can we communicate pain without inflicting it? This course explores a range of discourses about pain, including theoretical and technical ones. To what extent has literature developed special modes of expression for pain, and to what extent is the literary construction of pain gendered and open to cultural change? In addition to Scarry's book, we read a diverse collection of works, including selections from the Bible and Ovid, Freud's "Anna O," Kafka's "In the Penal Colony," W.G. Sebald's "The Emigrants," Wilde's "The Nightingale and the Rose," Woolf's "On Being Ill," and poetry by Nazim Hikmet and Sylvia Plath. Students will be encouraged to draw on personal experience as well as their intellectual resources, and there will be opportunity to write creatively as well as academically. This course is Writing Intensive. Satisfies the 20th Century and Later requirement.
Same as L14 E Lit 312W
L85 MedH 316 Contemporary Women's Health
We identify and study a broad range of health issues that are either unique to women or of special importance to women. The roles that women play as both providers and consumers of health care in the United States will be examined. The interface of gender, race, and class and their impact on an individual's access to and experience in the health care system will be central concerns. Topics are wide-ranging and include discussions of breast cancer, mental health, cardiovascular disease in women, women and eating (from anorexia to obesity), reproductive issues (from menstruation to fertility to menopause), as well as the politics of women's health, gender differences in health status, the effect of employment on health, the history of women's health research.
Same as L77 WGSS 316
L85 MedH 353 Medical Spanish
Designed for future medical professionals, this course will provide students with a complete vocabulary and cultural sensitivity necessary for treating Spanish-speaking patients. While the main focus is oral/aural, written exams, varied reading and some research are required. Volunteer work recommended for enrolled students. Advanced students will be given priority. Prereq: Span 308E or 303.
Same as L38 Span 353
L85 MedH 360 Trans* Studies
Trans* Studies is an interdisciplinary course that was previously named Transgender Studies. The new course title represents the development of the field and the identity in U.S. culture. In this course students engage with the following questions: When and why did the category gender emerge? What is the relationship between sex, sexuality and gender? How have the fields of medicine and psychology dealt with gender? How have approaches to "gender dysphoria" changed over time? Why is LGBT grouped together as a social movement? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this grouping? What are the legal obstacles faced by people who resist normative gender categories? What legal obstacles are faced by people who transition from one sex to another? To what extent do U.S. citizens have autonomy over defining their gender or sex? How are trans people represented in fiction? What does it mean to apply transgender theory to interpret fictional accounts of trans? Any of the following are suitable (but not required) courses to take before enrolling in this class: WGSS 100B, WGSS 105, WGSS 205 or WGSS 3091.
Same as L77 WGSS 360
L85 MedH 3672 Medicine, Healing and Experimentation in the Contours of Black History
Conversations regarding the history of medicine continue to undergo considerable transformation within academia and the general public. The infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment serves as a marker in the historical consciousness regarding African Americans and the medical profession. This course taps into this particular evolution, prompting students to broaden their gaze to explore the often delicate relationship of people of African descent within the realm of medicine and healing. Tracing the social nature of these medical interactions from the period of enslavement through the 20th century, this course examines the changing patterns of disease and illness, social responses to physical and psychological ailments, and the experimental and exploitative use of black bodies in the field of medicine. As a history course, the focus is extended toward the underpinnings of race and gender in the medical treatment allocated across time and space — the United States, Caribbean and Latin America — to give further insight into the roots of contemporary practice of medicine.
Same as L22 History 3672
L85 MedH 375 Medical Narratives, Narrative Medicine
Narrative medicine is an approach grounded in the recognition that patients live and communicate their embodied experiences as stories. This approach underscores the need for medical practitioners to cultivate skills of observation, analysis, storytelling, and cultural competency -- skills that are traditionally developed in humanities coursework. In this course, students will hone their competencies in observation, close reading, and written and oral expression in French through readings of medical narratives. Texts will include Jean-Dominique Bauby, "Le Scaphandre et le Papillon"; Molière, "Le Medecin Malgre Lui"; Michel de Montaigne, "De L'Experience"; Marguerite Duras, "La Douleur"; and excerpts from works by René Descartes, Honoré de Balzac, Émile Zola, Olivia Rosenthal, and Philippe Lançon. Whether considering works of art, patient testimonials, or classic works of literature, we will observe carefully, describe and understand what we see, tell stories, and attend to the details of the stories that others tell. Prerequisite: French 308 or equivalent.
Same as L34 French 375
L85 MedH 3801 Ancient Greek and Roman Medicine
This course introduces students to the practice and theory of medicine in the ancient Mediterranean, beginning in Egypt and continuing through Greece and Rome. It ends in the Middle Ages. Greco-Roman medicine will be our focus. How was disease understood by practitioners and, as far as can be reconstructed, by laypeople? What form did surgical, pharmacological, and dietetic treatment take? What were the intellectual origins of Greek medicine? The social status of medical practitioners? How was medicine written and in what terms did its practitioners conceive it?
Same as L08 Classics 3801
L85 MedH 385 What is Medical Humanities?
What is medical humanities? What are its core questions and methods? When and how did the field emerge? To whom does it matter and why? These questions will ground our exploration of recent work in medical humanities. We begin with readings chosen by the instructor to illuminate various humanistic methods (e.g., historical, literary, philosophical) and their approach to recurrent topics and problems in the field (e.g., the doctor-patient relationship, illness as experience, the social construction of disease, health inequality, medicalization). In the second part of the course, students will be guided in co-writing and co-teaching the rest of the syllabus. Students will finish the class able to provide their own definition of medical humanities and to explain the field's origins and concerns as well as why and to whom the field matters. Enrollment preference will be given to students who have already declared the minor in medical humanities.
L85 MedH 391W Literature and Medicine
Same as L14 E Lit 391W
L85 MedH 399 Independent Work in Medical Humanities
This designation can be used for independent studies and reading courses in medical humanities. It requires prior approval from the director of the medical humanities minor.
Credit variable, maximum 3 units.
L85 MedH 408 Disease, Madness, and Death Italian Style
Italian literary history teems with representations of illness, insanity, and death. From the ghastly 1348 plague that frames Boccaccio's "Decameron" to the midday madness of errant Renaissance knights and from 16th-century tales of poisoning and 19th-century Pirandellian madmen to the contemporary scourge of mafia killings, disease, madness, and death are dominant facts of reality, points of view, symbols, and cultural characteristics of Italian poetry and prose. This course undertakes a pathology of these tropes in Italian literary history and seeks to understand their meaning for the changing Italian cultural identity across time and the Italian peninsula. We will read primary literary texts and view excerpts from films alongside articles focused on the cultural history of medicine, religion, and criminal justice. Taught in English. No final.
Same as L36 Ital 408
L85 MedH 418 Sexuality and Gender in East Asian Religions
In this course we will explore the role of women in the religious traditions of China, Japan and Korea, with a focus on Buddhism, Daoism, Shamanism, Shinto and the so-called "New Religions." We will begin by considering the images of women (whether mythical or historical) in traditional religious scriptures and historical or literary texts. We will then focus on what we know of the actual experience and practice of various types of religious women — nuns and abbesses, shamans and mediums, hermits and recluses, and ordinary laywomen — both historically and in more recent times. Class materials will include literary and religious texts, historical and ethnological studies, biographies and memoirs, and occasional videos and films. Prerequisites: This class will be conducted as a seminar, with minimal lectures, substantial reading and writing, and lots of class discussion. For this reason, students who are not either upper-level undergraduates or graduate students, or who have little or no background in East Asian religion or culture, will need to obtain the instructor's permission before enrolling.
Same as L23 Re St 418
L85 MedH 423 Philosophy of Biological Science
This course examines a number of theoretical, conceptual, and methodological issues that arise in the attempts of biologists to explain living systems. One sort of problem concerns the relation between biology (and biological descriptions and explanations) and physics and chemistry. Biological phenomena have often seemed very different from ordinary physical phenomena in being telelogical or goal oriented. Vitalists, accordingly, resisted the attempt to invoke physics and chemistry in the attempt to explain biological phenomena. But recently biology has come more and more to draw upon physics and chemistry; we will examine the conceptual frameworks that underlie these efforts. Another sort of problem concerns the adaptiveness of living organisms. Charles Darwin offered one naturalistic explanation of this feature, an explanation that was further developed in this century as the synthetic theory of evolution. A number of controversial issues have arisen within this context of adaptation, and the range of levels at which selection can occur. The ubiquity of evolution, moreover, has been challenged in recent years, as a number of non-selectionist explanations have recently been put forward. We will consider the arguments for the synthetic theory and these alternatives.
L85 MedH 4647 Ancient Madness
In this course we will ask what madness meant in Greek and Roman culture. We will find reading strategies that are sensitive both to ancient evidence and to the ethical demands of talking about, evaluating, and categorizing people treated as mad. While we will concentrate on literary (particularly tragic and epic), philosophical, and medical texts, we will also look at visual representations and evidence from ritual and cult. An important part of our project will involve tracing the afterlife of classical ideas: the history of melancholia will ground this aspect of the course. Finally, we will consider how antiquity informs psychoanalysis (Oedipus, Antigone, Narcissus), and how ancient madness might partake in a critique of contemporary understandings of mental illness.
L85 MedH 4885 Advanced Seminar: Medicine, Disease, and Empire
This course examines the history of medicine in connection to the politics of colonialism and empire-building, spanning the 16th century through the 20th century. Topics covered include: epidemic disease outbreaks (e.g., smallpox, cholera, malaria); the role of science and medicine in endorsing the "civilizing missions" of empires; tropical climates and tropical diseases as western constructs; tensions between western medicine and indigenous healing practices and beliefs; ideas of race and racism in science and medicine; modern advancements in sanitation and public health and their implementation overseas; and the historical roots of the modern global health movement.
Same as L22 History 4885
L85 MedH 491 Staging Illness
"Suddenly some force struck him in the chest and side, making it still harder to breathe, and he fell through the hole and there at the bottom was a light." This quotation, from Tolstoi's story "The Death of Ivan Ilych," offers an example of how artists have employed serious or life-threatening diseases as a means of illuminating both physical suffering and spiritual rebirth. Even as it invades the body and isolates us from our fellow man, illness may offer opportunities for spiritual growth and renewal, serving as an apt metaphor for human survival in times of extremis. In her brilliant essay, "Illness as Metaphor" (1978), Susan Sontag takes issue with how illnesses like tuberculosis were misunderstood or even romanticized during the 19th century in works like Dumas's "Camille" and Puccini's "La Boheme." During the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s, American artists -- particularly theatre artists, whose communities were decimated by the disease -- were forced to consider how this global pandemic impacted their lives, especially at a time when the term AIDS was not even mentioned by the President of the United States. In conjunction with the Performing Arts Department's 25th anniversary production of Tony Kushner's extraordinary play, "Angels in America, Part 1, Millennium Approaches," this new course examines how disease has been a focal point of artistic inquiry over the course of centuries. By examining works that are focused on illness throughout history, the seminar offers both a deeper understanding of and context for Kushner's masterpiece and the AIDS crisis, and it considers how illness has always been an important subject for the investigation of what it means to be fully human.
Same as L15 Drama 491
L85 MedH 4990 Advanced Seminar: History of the Body
Do bodies have a history? Recent research suggests that they do. Historians have tapped a wide variety of sources - including vital statistics, paintings and photographs, hospital records, and sex manuals - to reconstruct changes in how humans have conceptualized and experienced their own bodies. We will pay particular attention to the intersection of European cultural history and history of medicine since 1500.
Same as L22 History 4990