HIS 144 Introduction to Health, Medicine and Society

Dr. Sarah Handley-Cousins

What are 'health' and 'illness'? What are their causes? What counts as 'normal' or 'abnormal'? Is anatomy? or genetics? destiny? These questions are fundamental to medicine, yet they involve much more than biological factors. This course explores the ever-changing relationships between bodies/biology and the social, cultural, political, environmental, and economic determinants of health, disease, illness, and normality. Physicians, health-care professionals, and policymakers, indeed, anyone who might interact with patients, need to understand how such 'social contexts' affect our attempts to heal, cure, or live with disease or disability. Given their complex social roots, there is no substitute for historical perspectives to reveal the often hidden, and usually ignored, causes of health, illness, or disability: no substitute, as well, for the humanities as an integral partner with medicine in addressing what ails us. This course combines the history of medicine with histories of public health, disease, the body, sexuality, and disabilities to explore: who gets ill, and why; who gets labeled abnormal, and why; how societies construct and respond to illness and abnormality; the changing experience and meanings of health and illness; the historical forces shaping the physician-patient relationship; and the future of medicine and health-care. Examples will range from the ancient and medieval world to the present; from Asia and Africa to Europe and the Americas; from the bubonic plague to cholera, tuberculosis, alcoholism, cancer, AIDS, and mental illness. This course acknowledges that medicine is a social and humanistic discipline, one requiring skills of interpretation and the ability to entertain multiple story-lines tracing complex webs of causality.