Health, Humanities, and Society
The Health, Humanities, and Society Program is designed for students who would like to learn how to think capaciously and creatively about health using the rigorous, precise, and flexible skills trained by the social sciences and the humanities.
The Health, Humanities, and Society minor is designed for students who would like to learn how to think capaciously and creatively about health using the rigorous, precise, and flexible skills trained by the social sciences and the humanities. The social sciences teach students to think about the social, economic, and political factors that structure health conditions and outcomes in particular societies, while the humanities train students to navigate the complexities of interpersonal interaction and their ethical implications, to relate the micro to the macro and texts to contexts, to historicize encounters, to communicate accurately and effectively across a variety of media, and to engage in creative analytical thinking about healthcare. The landscape of healthcare is quickly changing, and this training will equip students well not only for the diverse forms of health work that exist today, but for as yet unimaginable varieties of health-related work in the future.
This minor is structured around the particular competencies that the social sciences and humanities train. The humanities competencies include narrative, historical perspective, observation, ethics and judgment, while the social science courses teach students structural competency. Rather than adopting the more traditional approach of connecting particular skills to particular disciplines (say, narrative to literature and observation to art history), this minor builds from discipline-specific health knowledge while training students to think across disciplines. Thus, it will not be unusual for students to find a single course addressing multiple competencies or to take courses in different disciplines that address the same competency from distinct but complementary perspectives.
This minor is housed in the Humanities Center of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities in partnership with the Bouvé College of Health Sciences.
Director of the Minor and Initiative
Narrative and Historical Perspective
This competency addresses the ways in which health knowledge and practice can be improved through attention to narrative’s structures and functions and through an informed historical perspective. The narrative component of this competency trains students both to understand how stories work and to analyze the stakes and effects of the particular plots and conventions from the professional and popular cultures of health. It teaches students to see the ways in which interpersonal interactions are necessarily structured by the stories we tell and receive from others, and that these stories are built from what is said, from what is not said, and from the material, social, and cultural factors that shape those narratives. Finally, narrative competency asks students to understand the complexity of point of view and the degree to which our stories are never wholly our own, encouraging them to consider what our ethical obligations are given the structural and interpersonal complexities of narrative. The historical competency teaches students to interrogate the histories (genealogies) of contemporary health thought and practice, in addition to appreciating the contingency of these histories. The study of health and healthcare will certainly look different in the future, and a competence in historical perspective equips students to understand how, why, and under what conditions historical change happens.
This competency trains students to attend more critically and carefully to health topics and to become better observers. Drawing from the distinct expertise of particular disciplines and interdisciplinary approaches this competency trains students to attend differently to the subjects of knowledge and to the objects they observe. This competency prepares students to answer questions that include: What assumptions, technologies, and ways of thinking structure our observations? What are the histories of observation and attention and what can we learn about our own ways of attending and observing from this history? How do different disciplines and interdisciplinary approaches help us attend and observe differently—particularly in ways that make space for ways of knowing that are different from our own? How can we work toward ways of attending and observing that are more ethical, equitable, and inclusive? And, how can we remain aware of the ways in which our own methods and observations have been shaped by our training and lived experience and work toward remaining open to new ways of seeing and knowing?
Ethics and Judgment
Healthcare is, at various levels, governed by a variety of foundational moral values and principles, such as justice, beneficence, and non-maleficence—but the application of these values and principles is no simple matter. These values often present conflicting recommendations and it is often unclear what each value or principle recommends. This pair of competencies prepares students to understand and adjudicate these difficulties, preparing them to make responsible informed decisions. Students will learn how to identify the ethical contours of a wide variety of healthcare debates at various levels of organization, including individual, interpersonal, social, and cultural levels. A key component of this competency is rigorous and informed analysis and an ability to articulate and identify value-laden judgments.
This competency challenges students to recognize how social, environmental, and biological forces interact to promote wellness or to produce illness. Students will learn how systemic forms of injustice and exclusion (such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism) lead to disparities in health outcomes or healthcare delivery. Students will also study the historical origins of American healthcare institutions as a platform for understanding our rapidly changing health policy landscape. This will include how some social problems come to the attention of—and fall under the purview of—the medical profession, and the reasons why patients may resist medical social control and pursue care through complementary and alternative medical practices. Students will also learn to appreciate how patients experience acute or chronic illness and why they may describe those experiences in a language distinct from that used by healthcare professionals. This training in what Jonathan Metzl has called “structural competence” opens up opportunities to “observe and imagine structural interventions” that can improve health and healthcare (Metzl and Hansen 2014).
The Health, Humanities, and Society Initiative works with students to explore new approaches to social and cultural problems in health and healthcare. It seeds projects that use the rigorous tools of the humanities and social sciences to address health challenges, focusing especially on the interactions between the digital world and healthcare. The core of these projects is cross-disciplinary and intergenerational collaboration and their aim is to improve the relationship between health and our society. In this way, the initiative research will build on the humanistic and social science competencies training students acquire in the Health, Humanities, and Society minor, helping them tackle health issues from historical, ethical, narrative, social, and cultural perspectives. These research collaborations are not focused solely on clinical settings but on health in all of its forms, including fields like nursing, public health, and global health and topics like race, gender, class, sex, and disability.
Health, Humanities, and Society Research Funding
Applications and Information can be found here.
The Health, Humanities, and Society Initiative invites students to apply for funding to use methods from the humanities and social sciences to pursue health-related research.
Create your own research project
If you already know what questions you want to ask and have a faculty mentor identified, you can apply for up to $750 to purchase necessary equipment or supplies, travel to relevant libraries and archives, or pay yourself a stipend.
Applications for self-directed research will require a summary of your research project that identifies research questions, relevant methods, addresses the larger scholarship to which your research speaks, and clearly outlines the contributions you expect to make to your chosen field. You will also be asked for a preliminary budget, the name and email address of your faculty mentor, and clear statement of how this research will benefit your studies.
Join an existing research project led by a faculty member
If you want to join an ongoing research project, you can apply for a $500 stipend to support your research. These applications will ask you to provide information about the project you wish to join, its director, and your expected role. You will need to be able to identify what you will specifically accomplish doing this work (i.e. what piece of the project will become yours) and how this will contribute to your education and career path.
You can find information on existing projects at the Health, Humanities, and Society website
If you are interested in joining a project that isn’t listed here, please contact Professor Sari Altschuler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Applications are due October 20, 2023 by 5pm. Completed forms can be sent to email@example.com with the email subject set as “HHS – [type of application – independent OR joint] – [YOUR LAST NAME]”
Here we showcase excellent examples of the work undertaken by our students. These short essays show how humanities and social science perspectives can help us understand pressing issues in health and healthcare.