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Philosophy and Literature 24.2 (2000) 484-487

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Book Review

Teaching Literature and Medicine

Teaching Literature and Medicine, edited by Anne Hunsaker Hawkins and Marilyn Chandler McEntyre; vii & 406 pp. New York: Modern Language Association, 2000, $40.00 cloth, $22.00 paper.

Teaching Literature and Medicine is the 16th volume in the Modern Language Association's Options for Teaching. This series has a dual objective--to explore areas of language and literary study not normally included in the traditional undergraduate English curriculum, such as oral or environmental literature, and to present sample classes from pioneering scholars who have actually taught in these fields. Given this focus, Teaching Literature and Medicine is an exciting addition to Options for Teaching, because it introduces teachers in the [End Page 484] humanities and pre-medicine to courses that are truly multidisciplinary. They bring together literature, science and cultural studies and insist upon the common concerns of literature and medicine: an understanding of the human condition and the need for close observation and analysis in the treatment of the individual. According to the editors, Anne Hunsaker Hawkins and Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, courses in literature and medicine first appeared in American and Canadian universities in the 1960s, when they were intended almost exclusively for the benefit of medical students, whose rigidly scientific training ignored the artistic and emotional components of medical practice. By the 1990s, however, these courses had proliferated, not only in medical schools but also in all areas of undergraduate, and even graduate, curricula, both in liberal arts programs and those devoted to preparation in the health care fields. Often, these more recent courses took the ambitious goal of promoting collaboration between the humanities and science. In support of such collaboration, this book offers 34 brief essays by teachers from the liberal arts and health care professions, several of whom hold both the M.D. and Ph.D. degrees. Their topics range from ethics and gender to psychiatry, nursing and pharmacology. Many chapters generously include detailed syllabi, bibliographies, specific reading and writing assignments, and even frank evaluations of the courses' successes and failures. All are designed to provide guidelines for teachers interested in entering this cross discipline.

Most of the essays in Part I, "Model Courses," use literature to illuminate the history or culture of medicine in Europe and North America. Three of these chapters merit special consideration. Stephanie Browner's "Illness in America" explores our changing national attitudes toward sickness from the 17th century to the present as they are reflected in sermons, novels and short stories. Martin Donahue's "Exploring the Human Condition: Literature and Public Health Issues," makes the convincing argument that realist fiction can sensitize medical students to the sociocultural problems involved in treating contagious disease, alcoholism, child or spousal abuse, and depression. Lillian Furst's "Medical History and Literary Texts" proposes a curriculum in which readings from medical histories regularly alternate with readings of fiction on medical themes: "The fictions give flesh, as it were, to the skeletal outlines provided by the historical accounts and are therefore essential to the students' understanding of situations alien to their own experience" (p. 58). This course not only blends scientific and literary training but links the classroom to clinical practice by providing internships in health care for students wavering between careers in medicine and the humanities. A second group of model courses approaches the study of medicine from the viewpoint of literary critical theory, equating "the work of doctoring with the work of writing" (p. 109), since both arts create narratives, employ rhetorical strategies and draw upon metaphor or myth. "Literature and Medicine as a Writing Course," team taught by Lois S. [End Page 485] Spatz and Kathleen Welch, and Elizabeth M. Willingham's "Light to the Mind: Literature in the Medical Spanish Course" stand out as the most original applications of literature to the study of medicine. The first course, relying heavily on in-depth analysis of Camus's The Plague, encourages students to acquire and process scientific knowledge through argumentative as well as creative writing assignments that bring together literature and personal...


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