UW-Madison Center for the Humanities

Center for the Humanities

Past Faculty Development Seminars
Spring 2015: Global Health

Spring 2015: Global Health?  Rethinking Medical Humanities from the Periphery 

Led by Claire Wendland, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, and Neil Kodesh, Associate Professor, Department of History

See here for information about participating in the seminar. Applications are due on Monday, December 15, 2014.

Seminar Description

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.


WEEK 1. January 20. What is health, what is healing? Defining a field of inquiry.

WEEK 2. January 27. How might we think about efficacy?

WEEK 3. February 3. Is pluralism a useful conceptual tool? Is tradition?

WEEK 4. February 17. What novel methodologies come from studies of the periphery?

WEEK 5. February 24. What changes—and doesn’t—in the age of global health?

WEEK 6. March 3. What do (post)colonial interventions into women’s health teach us about biopolitics?

WEEK 7. March 10. What stories do—and do not—get told, and how are narratives used?

WEEK 8. March 17. Where are the limits of global biomedicine?

  • Julie Livingston, Improvising Medicine: An African Oncology Ward in an Emerging Cancer Epidemic, 2012 (the whole book is recommended; we will concentrate discussion on chapters 2 and 4).

WEEK 9. March 24. Humanitarian care: therapeutic domination, moral necessity, both or neither?

WEEK 10. April 7. What are future directions for study?

  • Readings to be selected by seminar participants in weeks 2-3

See here for information about participating in the seminar. Applications are due on Monday, December 15, 2014.