Doing Medical Humanities without a Medical School

“Call for Connections” is a column where members of the CHCI community can seek out information and partnerships around shared issues, including research areas, teaching methods, administrative practices, and more. If you are interested in writing such a call, please let us know.

For the past three years, I have had the pleasure of participating in the CHCI’s Medical Humanities Network summer conference. The Medical Humanities Network, funded with a grant from the Mellon Foundation, brings together scholars working in the field of the Medical Humanities. As stated on their web site, the network “seeks to contribute to the ways medicine and the humanities are taught and practices; to provide new models for research within and across fields; and to foster collaborations between scholars working in humanities departments and their colleagues in the health sciences.”

The network’s annual summer conferences, which have been held for the past three years, have offered lively and timely discussions surrounding the field of the medical humanities. Columbia, Dartmouth, University of the Witwatersrand, UNC-Chapel Hill, King’s College-London, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong are the partner institutions that initiated the Medical Humanities Network. And since the annual conferences have opened the network to institutions beyond the founding cohort, the network has been building intellectual exchange and expanding its reach in exciting ways.

Still, as the network has grown, the types of institutions represented have been mainly large research universities. They are institutions that have medical schools and other professional health schools where humanists and physicians have the opportunity to foster connections within the field. As a faculty member based at a small research university, I have often found myself wondering: how is “doing” medical humanities at a liberal arts college or small university (LACSU) different from doing this work at a much larger institution? What role might LACSUs play in developing the medical humanities? What specific challenges do scholars at LACSUs face in working in the field of medical humanities? And what might be required to support our work—whether it be to develop our own scholarship or establish curricular innovations in the field?

I presented some of my own preliminary answers to these questions at the recent Medical Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Miami in May 2017, where I shared sample syllabi and talked about my pedagogical practice. You can listen to that talk and see my slides below:

Audio recorded at the Medical Humanities Summer Institute, courtesy of the Center for the Humanities at the University of Miami

I am interested in hearing from scholars and teachers like myself working at LACSUs in the field of medical humanities or health humanities. What challenges does doing this work at a LACSU present, and what opportunities are present when we work together? I propose the establishment of a working group that focuses specifically on the ways in which we might support teaching and advance research on the medical humanities at our respective institutions, and establish a space for sharing practices. Let us begin a conversation on how we can advance this important field from our unique locales and perspectives.

If you are interested in developing a Medical Humanities Working Group within the Network for Liberal Arts Colleges and Small Universities, please let me know by emailing me at

Esther L. Jones is Associate Professor of English and the E. Franklin Frazier Chair of African American Literature, Theory and Culture at Clark University in Worcester, MA, where she is also the director of the Africana Studies program in the Center for Gender, Race and Area Studies. Visit her website and follower her on Twitter @estherljones.