In recent years, the global academic community has placed a growing emphasis on medical humanities studies. Starting with integrating humanistic perspectives into medical education, medical humanities has developed into a remarkably forward-looking interdisciplinary field, where humanities scholars can actively contribute to the understanding of health sciences, supporting the goal of shaping society through literature. In 2018 the Ministry of Science and Technology funded a project entitled “Engaged Literary Studies: Interdisciplinary Research in Medical Humanities,” headed by Pin-chia Feng, Lifetime Chair Professor of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at the National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University. By publishing scholarly essays and books and organizing academic events, the project has successfully encouraged literary scholars, especially junior scholars, to engage in this promising research field.
One of the highlights of the project is the three international workshops in which scholars gathered to discuss the latest issues in the medical humanities. In November 2018, Yin Wang, Associate Professor of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at the National Cheng Kung University, organized the first workshop, “Uneven Distribution of Humanity.” The workshop invited renowned scholars in disability studies and gerontology from the United States and Canada to discuss the issues of power relations, ideologies, and institutionalization within Western technological modernity. Furthermore, the workshop covered a range of historical analyses on the evolution of Eastern and Western legal discourses, political rationality, and concepts such as the nation-state, civil society, gendered bodies, and sexuality.
In 2019, Chen-Hsing Tsai, Professor of the Department of English at the Tamkang University, hosted the second workshop—“Interdisciplinary Medical Humanities in the Age of Anthropocene”—where prominent scholars in narrative medicine and critical medical humanities from the United Kingdom and the United States led discussions on the formations and functioning of “normative” discourses. In 2021, Jade Lee, Professor of the Department of English at the National Kaohsiung Normal University, organized the third workshop: “Walk with the Elderly: Representations and Writings of Ageing and the Elderly.” At this event, scholars from the United States and Taiwan explored ideas germane to issues of ageing, such as how to talk and think about ageing, and how to better understand and care for the elderly. The discussions focused on various humanistic topics, such as the elderly and ageing body, desire, cultural significance, population ageing, long-term care for the elderly, and the ways to create an ageing-friendly environment in Taiwan.
Additionally, the project has organized more than 20 lectures to date. The topics of the lectures from 2018 to 2020 were related to the major themes of the three workshops. The speakers of the lecture series in 2021, organized by Shin-Ju Kuo, Associate Professor of the Center for General Education at the China Medical University, included doctors, public health experts, and artists. In 2022, we try to approach medical humanities from the perspectives of environmentalism, animal studies, and speculative imagination, aiming to introduce emerging issues in medical humanities. These events moved online in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and this adjustment has greatly expanded the coverage and depth of the research, and allowed more people to attend them.
Moreover, in April 2021, “A Symposium on Health Humanities, Literature, and Life Narrative” took place at the National Sun Yat-sen University, to further promote the research of medical humanities in southern Taiwan. In August, in an online symposium, the world-class environmental humanities scholar Scott Slovic talked about the emergence of a new field which he terms “medical-environmental humanities.” Two other virtual seminars were held in November 2021 and January 2022, where six Taiwanese scholars from different parts of the island shared their latest research. The initial research results of this project were published as a collection of essays in 2020 under the title of Literature, Visual Culture, and Medicine, which consists of eight research papers. A new collection of essays is forthcoming in late 2022. In addition, an international conference is scheduled to take place at the end of 2022, which will gather scholars from around the world to explore the most recent development in medical humanities.
Thus far, this project has successfully fulfilled its aims. It not only showcases how literary studies can contribute to science and society, but also links the study of culture, literature, and medicine, promoting humanistic perspectives in the field of medical humanities. By effectively building a platform for multidisciplinary interactions, this project has set an excellent example for future interdisciplinary research.
Pin-chia Feng, PhD
Lifetime Chair Professor, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
Director of Asian American Studies Research Center
Director of Interdisciplinary Medical Humanities Research Center
National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University