IRPH Medical Humanities Research Cluster

Jonathan Inda is a professor in and chair of the Latina/Latino Studies department.


The IPRH Medical Humanities Researcher Cluster was formed in the spring of 2017 as way to bring together the energies of humanities scholars at Illinois who work on health, illness, and medicine. The Medical Humanities is a vibrant field of study on campus, with scholars coming from a variety of disciplines—history of medicine, cultural studies, science and technology studies, medical anthropology, ethnic studies, philosophy, ethics, and the arts (literature, film, visual art)—and focusing on wide range of topics: for example, race, science, and medicine;  health activism; maternal and child health; epigenetics; biohumanities; physician-patient relationship; patient informed consent; human-animal distinctions; illness memoirs; medical education; stroke and its aftereffects; biomedical informatics; narrative medicine; disease and madness in literature; and stress, health, and sociogenomics.

A main goal of the cluster for 2017-18 is to give greater visibility to the Medical Humanities on campus. To help fulfill this aim, we developed the Medical Humanities @ Illinois Lecture Series. Our first speaker, who presented on October 3, was Susan E. Lederer, the Robert Turell Professor of the History of Medicine and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. She is the author of the books Subjected to Science: Human Experimentation in America Before the Second World War (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995) and Flesh and Blood: A Cultural History of Transplantation and Transfusion in Twentieth-Century America (Oxford University Press, 2008). Prof. Lederer’s talk, “The Living and the Dead: Anatomy and the State in Twentieth-Century America,” focused on the history of body donation for medical teaching and research purposes. In the 1950s, American medical schools reluctantly embarked on a novel solution to obtain sufficient human anatomical material for research and education. Rather than relying on so-called anatomy acts that rendered the bodies of the indigent and unclaimed dead available for dissection, medical institutions created programs in which the living could “donate their bodies to science” after their deaths. In California, the new body donor program at UCLA was so successful that the Anatomy Department announced a temporary “moratorium” on accepting any more bequests because they were so overwhelmed with potential donors. The talk examined this development in the history of anatomy, and considered why and how anatomical gifting attracted so much support at mid-century.

The next speaker in the series will be Anthony Ryan Hatch, Associate Professor of Science in Society at Wesleyan University. He is the author of Blood Sugar: Racial Pharmacology and Food Justice in Black America (University of Minnesota Press, 2016). Prof. Hatch is giving a talk titled “Racial and Racist Narratives of Metabolic Syndrome” on Wednesday, November 8, 4:00-5:30 (IPRH Lecture Hall, Levis Faculty Center, Fourth Floor). Thousands of biomedical texts convey a series of narratives about metabolic syndrome and race. In these narratives, metabolic syndrome is portrayed as a common-sense idea that helps researchers, clinicians, patients, and drug companies get a handle on the co-morbid health risks from high blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, and obesity. Many of these narratives also position metabolic syndrome as a progressive concept that helps us document and combat racial health injustice. But, does the metabolic syndrome concept really help to foster racial health equity? How might the racial and racist narratives of metabolic syndrome work together to limit its liberatory potential? In this lecture, Professor Hatch discusses these questions in the context of Blood Sugar.

In the spring of 2018, one of our speakers will be Jonathan Metzl, the Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry, and the Director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society, at Vanderbilt University. His books include The Protest Psychosis (Beacon Press, 2011), Prozac on the Couch (Duke University Press, 2003), and Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality (New York University Press, 2010). His talk will focus on gun violence, mass shootings, and mental illness. Four assumptions frequently arise in the aftermath of mass shootings in the United States: (1) that mental illness causes gun violence, (2) that psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime, (3) that shootings represent the deranged acts of mentally ill loners, and (4) that gun control “won’t prevent” such incidents. Professor Metzl will address how assumptions about gun violence incorrectly link to stereotypes of mental illness and race in the United States. These issues become obscured when mass shootings come to stand in for all gun crime, and when “mentally ill” ceases to be a medical designation and becomes a sign of violent threat. More information about Prof. Metzl can be found at http://www.jonathanmetzl.com.

The Medical Humanities Researcher Cluster greatly appreciates the support of IPRH, the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, and the Lemann Institute for Brazilian Studies. We hope that faculty, staff, and students will be able to join us at our upcoming events.

About iprh

The Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was established in 1997 to promote interdisciplinary study in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.
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