Medical Humanities

Cultural Dimensions of Medicine, Medical Dimensions of Culture

We are a team of literary scholars and historians who aim to unite our disciplines with the goal of contributing to a better understanding of medicine. From our humanities-informed view, we believe that there are two ways of seeing it; firstly, medicine is a complex semiotic system, secondly it is also a series of cultural practices in science and communication which can only be understood through their respective contexts. While we apply both perspectives to our teaching and to our research, there are important differences in how we apply them:

Our teaching forms a mandatory part of the medical curriculum in which we aim to deepen our students understanding of contemporary medicine as a complex system. With this goal in mind, our teaching focuses on the cultural and intellectual history of medicine, including discussions of medicines’ various agents, discursive rules and spaces and the history of their representations in media. In doing so, we are guided by the principles of the applied humanities, that is to say humanities which serve a purpose beyond and outside of themselves. The goal is not to make cultural historians out of medical students, but instead to aide them in their understanding of medicine within its historical, social, political, and cultural context. 

Our research, in contrast, is defined primarily through the analysis of literary and historical sources. It concentrates on the interface of the two disciplines that our team represents: Modern German Literature and the History of Medicine. As a result, our research is characterised far more by the analytical, reconstructive and interpretive dimensions of medical humanities, rather than by the more normative or practical ones which constitute our teaching. Our focus lies on the cultural development of medicine and its adjacent disciplines since the 18th century, specifically their media, practices, symbolic representations and varying self-images. Additionally, we pursue literary, historical, and cultural questions framed and informed by both the medicalisation of society and the scientification of medicine which has occurred since the 19th century. These questions include topics as diverse as the invention of the ‘sick child’ in 19th century periodicals, the travelogues of the “young Germany” movement and fictional prose of Weimar Republic examined through the lens of Disability studies, and finally the history and narratology of expert medical genres such as discharge reports and case studies.

Isaak Cruikshank: The Doctor and Unruly Patient (coloured etching, 1797)
Léon Augustin Lhermitte: La Leçon de Claude Bernard, ou Séance au laboratoire de vivisection (huile sur toile, 1889)

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