Mellon Grant Supports Exploration of Global Health Humanities

Holly Tucker

This Thursday, April 9, from 9am to 12:30pm, Holly Tucker of Vanderbilt University will give the keynote address at the workshop, “Theorizing the Emerging Field of Global Health Humanities"

Published April 7, 2015, last updated on June 3, 2020 under Research News

Backed by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, faculty at the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI), including Kearsley (“Karrie”) Stewart and Deborah Jenson, are engaged in developing a critical framework for the emerging field of global health humanities. This project is part of a $1.3 million grant to Duke’s John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI) that will involve Duke faculty and more than 100 leading scholars worldwide in an exploration of the future of humanities scholarship. In addition to her DGHI appointment, Jenson is also the director of FHI.

The grant, called “Humanities Futures,” enables FHI, along with Duke’s humanities departments and interdisciplinary units, to organize a number of programs, including invited speaker series, public conversations, working groups and seminars. Speakers will contribute position papers on disciplinary and interdisciplinary dynamics in the humanities in their research areas, and these papers will eventually be collected and published on a website.

Working Group Is Examining Intersections between Global Health and Humanities

Medical humanities education has a long history of using poetry, stories, visual art, film and other media to help physicians learn how to engage more effectively with their patients. Stewart and Jenson, who lead the global health humanities working group, believe that the field of global health—and global health researchers and practitioners—can also benefit from tapping into the humanities.

However, according to Stewart, global health differs from the medical field in that the core skills for global health practitioners do not focus on the doctor-patient dyad, but rather on “understanding that the health of a single patient is enmeshed in a complex system of individual behaviors, family and community relationships, environmental surroundings, economic limitations and structural injustices.” 

Therefore, as part of the Humanities Futures project, Stewart and Jenson are facilitating an intellectual inquiry into what types of collaboration between the humanities and global health will help global health researchers and practitioners be more effective, efficient and innovative.

“Global health humanities highlights the importance of culturally and linguistically-grounded methodologies in global health sites,” Jenson notes. “The field of global health also reveals the ‘real world’ impact of humanities expertise.”

DGHI professor and senior advisor Dennis Clements strongly supports the integration of humanities into global health programs of study. “The humanities have long been overlooked as instrumental in improving global health,” he said. “Incorporating language, art, music and history into the understanding of a culture allows one to design effective global health support for a community.” 

Inaugural Event Will Spark Conversation about Global Health Humanities Framework

This Thursday, April 9, from 9am to 12:30pm, Stewart and Jenson will host the project’s inaugural event: a public workshop on “Theorizing the Emerging Field of Global Health Humanities,” which will address the following questions:

  • What is the role of the humanities and in particular, modern foreign languages, in health and in global health?
  • What is an ideal collaboration between humanists and global health practitioners, and what is the benefit to students, both humanities and medical?

Holly Tucker, professor in the department of French and Italian and in the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University, will deliver the keynote address. Following the keynote, titled “Medical Humanities, Global Health Humanities: Reflections on Identities, Practices and Potential,” a panel of three discussants will offer reflections on Tucker’s talk. The discussants will include:

  • Duke clinical psychology PhD student Elsa Friis, also a 2014 graduate of the Duke Master’s of Science in Global Health program
  • Rebecca Messbarger, professor of Italian, history, and women, gender and sexuality studies at the Washington University in St. Louis
  • Corinna Treitel, history professor at the Washington University in St. Louis

In the afternoon, Stewart and Jenson will facilitate a discussion with faculty from across Duke—including the School of Medicine, DGHI, and various humanities departments—to begin formulating a framework for global health humanities at Duke and beyond. They’ll consider whether existing social science and humanities theories could apply to the study of global health and how the concept of global health humanities differs from medical humanities, among other topics.

The event is sponsored by the FHI Mellon Humanities Futures Working Group in Global Health Humanities and the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities and History of Medicine at the Duke School of Medicine.

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Global health humanities highlights the importance of culturally and linguistically-grounded methodologies in global health sites.

Deborah Jenson, global health professor and director of the Franklin Humanities Institute