Health Humanities at HI


If there is anything the global experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic have revealed, it is that human health is shaped by and depends on cultural practices and values. Although health is often equated with biomedicine and assumed to be the focus of research exclusively in the medical and sometimes behavioral sciences, it cannot be adequately understood or supported without attention to the narratives, values and cultural products and institutions that human communities create and uphold. These building blocks of cultures of health are the focus of the humanities and the qualitative social sciences, and human flourishing greatly depends on them.

The Health Humanities at HI Initiative works to promote research and interdisciplinary collaborationsbetween the university, community networks, and clinical partnersthat address health as a cultural idea, value and practice. Its fundamental mission is to guide and support public discussions about health equity, justice, and access, and to explore creative cultural approaches to promoting care for all.

Scholars, professionals, artists and activists working with Health Humanities at HI bring their expertise to analyzing various cultural forces:

  • the stories told about illness, mortality, and the body;

  • the ethics of care and wellbeing;

  • the politics of representation and distribution of health resources;

  • the way history generates and informs current structures of healthcare and the clinic;

  • and the myriad ways stigmas, stereotypes and language or cultural difference influence and can undermine access to medical resources and just systems of care.

Health Humanities at HI includes researchers working in the established fields of narrative medicine, bioethics, philosophy of science, biocultural studies, history of medicine, translation studies, and disability studies. In concert with those studying embodiment, particularly in scholarly communities addressing race, class, gender, and sexuality, it also seeks to develop research capacity in these fields. It also supports those who are focused on reforming healthcare training and practice and working to promote structural awareness, diversity and cultural humility in the health professions.

We currently organize and sponsor events to build research capacity and public engagement with the field and offer an interdisciplinary undergraduate certificate in Health Humanities that is available for students pursuing any major at ASU, with more curricular programs in development.

Plagues, Epidemics and Culture: Histories of Crisis and Care

Engaging with scholars focused on the histories and representations of epidemics, this series explores what can be learned from historical changes in the cultures of care that arose from those crises. Speakers also address how histories of bias, racism and colonialism are intimately bound up in the history of epidemics.

Initiative Directors: Cora Fox

is Associate Professor in the Department of English at Arizona State University. She has led this initiative to develop research capacity in the health humanities at ASU since 2013. She is the author of "Ovid and the Politics of Emotion in Elizabethan England" (Palgrave, 2009) and co-edited, with Barbara Weiden Boyd, the MLA Approaches to Teaching the Works of Ovid and the Ovidian Tradition (2010). Her current work focuses on the cultural histories and politics of positive emotions and well-being, as well as the role of narrative in shaping notions of care and community, particularly their exclusions. She is currently working on a book tentatively titled "Fictions of Health and Happiness in Early Modern England."

Annika Mann is a scholar of eighteenth-century and Romantic-era British literature and culture, with special interests in the history of medicine, the health humanities, and disability studies. Her book "Reading Contagion: The Hazards of Reading in the Age of Print" (University of Virginia Press, 2018) explores how reading was marked as a fundamentally contagious, collectivizing activity in medical texts and literary works published during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Her co-edited collection, "Transforming Contagion," with ASU colleagues Breanne Fahs, Eric Swank and Sarah Stage, examines contagion from both social sciences and humanities perspectives, by excavating infectious practices rooted in social movements, film, literature, psychological exchanges, the classroom and more. Dr. Mann is currently working on a project on literature’s supposedly special relationship to health during the Romantic period, with particular focus on how women write chronic pain and immobility. Articles and chapters by Dr. Mann have appeared in Eighteenth-Century Fiction and the volume Systems of Life (eds. Montag and Barney) and are forthcoming in SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 and the volume "Keywords for the Health Humanities" (eds. Altschuler, Metzl, and Wald).