As an adjunct instructor in the Medicine, Science, and the Humanities program at Johns Hopkins, I have developed a series of unique courses for undergraduates that bring together literature and history with pressing issues in science, medicine, and society.
The costs of care: Writing about illness in America
Health care can be expensive for those who receive it and those who provide it. In the United States, patients go into debt while doctors suffer from burnout and nurses rush through understaffed wards. The U.S. has the highest healthcare spending of any wealthy nation, yet suffers comparatively worse outcomes. This seminar brings together social science research with personal essays, zines, and patient manifestos that express the human cost of a dysfunctional health care system.
Clues: (un)reasoning the medical mystery
Foundational authors of detective fiction, including Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Pauline Hopkins, and Rudolph Fisher, often used medical doctors and themes in their mystery plots. It’s no coincidence that medicine and crime fiction share a vocabulary of clues, evidence, and diagnosis. The mystery genre was integrally tied to the rise of scientific medicine as a respected profession. This course examines the power of mystery narratives to shape rationality itself, and to reinforce or subvert a social order threatened by disease, crime, and difference.
This course surveys the history of the mind sciences through science fiction. By placing each period’s scientific texts in dialog with contemporaneous scifi, we discover how theories about the mind can shape society even while reiterating the cultural values and social structures of their eras. Students today will be significantly impacted by emerging neurotechnologies. A critical history of these technologies is essential for identifying what is at stake. Science fiction spurs us to make decisions about the world we want to see before these decisions are made for us.
Uncanny bodies: medicine and horror
The uncanny – the sense of that which “ought to have remained hidden but has come to light” – and an adjacent feeling, horror, arise when secret or repressed histories surface, confronting society with its own guilt. These two feelings, horror and the uncanny, are also literary genres that deal with the body, identity, boundaries, and death. They are powerful tools for understanding the history of medicine and science. Science creates monsters not only through the manipulation of biological material, but through the categorization of people as fit or unfit, normal or pathological. This course reads fiction and history together to illuminate the role of biomedical authority in the constitution of horror.
Most Americans are born in a hospital and die in one; hospitals are major employers and, increasingly, sources of revenue for multinational corporations. This course will look at the history, technology, and public policy debates surrounding the institution of the American hospital. From the 18th century to the present moment, how did hospitals become the center of medical care? We go behind the scenes to visit the complex and often invisible systems that make hospitals run, from blood labs to kitchens to the infrastructure that provides sterile air and water.