The Medical Humanities
Sponsored by the Stanford Humanities Center and made possible by support from Linda Randall Meier, the Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities
The Medical Humanities workshop goals are to develop a shared sense of purpose among faculty stakeholders to create a useful institutional structure infused with goodwill, trust, and a shared enterprise. Our challenge is that the arts focus, and the anthropology/history focus have been oriented in different directions. Anthropologists and historians are usually more politically and empirically oriented. In our current era, graduate students in particular wrestle with moral concerns about the underprivileged. The arts focus is often more aesthetic and turned towards humanizing the medical gaze. Our goal has been to use the workshop to set up a scholarly conversation to explore what we can learn from each other. The intersections between medicine and the arts/humanities/social sciences matter because they show that the object of medicine is cultured, gendered, and historically specific. And they matter because they enable us to train graduate students to hold simultaneously the realness of medical disease and its social location, and to train medical students to appreciate the cultured nature of their patients and their work. These concerns become more pressing as the modern pandemic has made so clear the role of class, race, and inequality in the response to disease. Returning from the extraordinary conditions imposed by the pandemic, the need to explore the meaning of illness experience will become more urgent. Culture—local meanings—clearly shaped the way this disease came into being, the way it was spread and managed medically, and the way it was experienced by bodies made different vulnerabilities. As many have commented, the pandemic has revealed the social inequities in American life. The exploration of this and other illnesses clearly needs an interdisciplinary framework that expands across both sides of the Stanford campus.