The vibrant and growing fields of health humanities and disability studies will be at the center of discussion during the Humanities, Health, and Disability Studies Working Group’s inaugural meeting, which will be hosted at Hobart and William Smith on Saturday, Sept. 28.
Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium, the interdisciplinary program will bring together scholars, clinicians and other professionals from across Upstate New York and beyond to establish goals, share expertise and launch collaborations at the intersection of the humanities, health and the study of disabilities.
“Health humanities is a burgeoning discipline. It is an area that’s rapidly developing and on the cutting-edge of inquiry at the national and international levels,” says Visiting Assistant Professor of English Sarah Berry, who is a Mellon grant recipient for the program and principal investigator. Professor of Media and Society Les Friedman is the co-principal investigator.
The upcoming grant-funded program is cosponsored by the Central New York Humanities Corridor, a unique regional collaboration in research and humanistic inquiry among HWS, Syracuse University, Cornell University, University of Rochester and other liberal arts colleges.
“This program in health humanities will establish important connections across disciplines and professions in our region,” says Berry. “It’s a unique initiative that will bring together those who are researching or specializing in a particular aspect of health through the humanities.”
Provost and Dean of Faculty Titi Ufomata, who will deliver the welcome address at the meeting, also was instrumental in helping to initiate the upcoming program through the Mellon CNY Humanities Corridor. She says the meeting on health humanities and disability studies is a first of its kind assembly at HWS.
“Liberal arts institutions and research universities will be working together to explore the prospect of interdisciplinary research and institutional collaborations in the areas of health humanities and disability studies,” Ufomata says. “The Humanities Corridor program is an excellent opportunity for members of the HWS faculty to showcase their work and seek collaborations with other scholars from the region. This is an important opportunity for the Colleges.”
In light of the current program, Ufomata says interest in exploring these institutional collaborations developed following an initial Humanities Corridor meeting for provosts and deans from the New York Six. Following that gathering, Ufomata says another meeting for HWS faculty members was held in order to highlight the possibilities for collaboration and research that are available through the Humanities Corridor in these areas of study.
The upcoming meeting will be held throughout the day in the Faculty Dining Room of the Scandling Campus Center. Participants of the conference include physicians, bioethicists, health humanities scholars, and medical educators, among others from across New York State, Ontario, and New Jersey. Covering a range of disciplines, participants are working with aspects of health and ability in religious studies, English, disability studies, women’s studies, medicine, education, medical humanities, clinical ethics, philosophy, film and media studies, law, STS (Science, Technology, and Society), history, psychology and public health.
In health humanities and disability studies, scholars use the methods and materials of the humanities to examine how culture interacts with the individual experience of embodiment, illness, wellness, and healthcare practices. These areas of research and teaching innovate medical education and practice to reflect a new emphasis on humanism, ethics and empathy.
Berry says the inaugural meeting at HWS will afford participants the opportunity to share ideas about research and projects, while establishing guidelines about what efforts they’ll bring forth after the meeting. She says some areas of discussion may include creating a central website or database for information, planning scholarly paper or teaching workshops, and exploring ways to connect undergraduate and medical students through undergraduate research or teaching exchanges.
Friedman, chair of the HWS Media and Society Program, says the upcoming program is an important new direction for the Mellon CNY Humanities Corridor, as it bolsters the exploration of health and medicine through a lens intertwined with the humanities.
“The humanities are a growing part of medical culture,” Friedman says. “And along with the growth of technology, it is important for us not to lose sight of the human connection.”
Berry joined the Colleges in 2008, after earning her Ph.D. from Syracuse University, where she also earned her M.A. She holds a B.S. from Cornell University. Her research examines race, gender, and the politics of health in 19th- and 20th-century literature, including slave narratives, fiction, science journalism, and autobiography. She has published in Academic Medicine and has forthcoming an essay in the Journal of Medical Humanities about slavery and medicine; an essay with Anthony Cerulli in Mosaic on Nathaniel Hawthorne and competing medical ideologies; and a chapter in Rethinking Empathy (Routledge) about race, gender, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. She is the author of several teaching articles and a higher education learning module, “A Medicine of Their Own: The Stories of American Women Healers” (National Library of Medicine). She serves on the Health Professions Steering Committee at HWS and her courses include Stories of Illness and Healing, Cultures of Medicine, 19th-Century Women Healers, and Health and Social Justice.
Friedman received a Ph.D. and a master’s degree from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s degree from Alfred University. He is the author of “Citizen Spielberg” and “American Cinema of the 1970s” and editor of “Fires Were Started” and “Cultural Sutures: Medicine and Media.” His previous teaching experience includes Syracuse University, Upstate Medical Center and Northwestern University. With a formal background in literature, Friedman focuses his research on the interconnections between medical culture and mass media, particularly film and television. He is the editor of Cultural Sutures: Essays on Medicine and Media (Duke University Press), as well as co-editor of Pictures of Health: Bioethics and the Movies (Oxford University Press) and the Health and Humanities Reader (Rutgers University Press). He also sits on the editorial board for “The Journal of Medical Humanities.” His textbook on film genres (Norton) will be published in November, and he is currently writing a book on the cultural history of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”