This essay describes the origins, growth, and transformation of the medical humanities over the past six decades, drawing on the insights of ethicists, physicians, histori-ans, patients, activists, writers, and literature scholars who participated in building the field. The essay traces how the original idea of “humanizing physicians” evolved and how crises from death and dying, to AIDS and COVID-19, expanded humanistic inquiry into health, illness, and the human condition. It examines how a wide array of scholars, professional organizations, disciplinary approaches, academic units, and intellectual agendas came to define the vibrant field. This remarkable growth offers a counterpoint to narratives of decline in the humanities. It is a story of growing relevance shaped by tragedy, of innovative programs in medical schools and on undergraduate campuses, and vital new configurations of ethics, literature, the arts, and history that breathed new life into the study of health and medicine.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
- Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Political Science and International Relations
- History and Philosophy of Science