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History of Medicine within the Medical Humanities – Workshop

Call for Papers

“History of Medicine within the Medical Humanities”

Exploratory workshop funded by the Joint Committee for Nordic Research Councils for the Humanities and the Social Sciences (NOS-HS)

3-4 March 2022, Lund University


The first workshop in our series “Changing attitudes towards medical uncertainty in the training of physicians” was held in November 2019 in Helsinki focusing on the theme “Changing attitudes towards medical uncertainty at the research university from the 1880s”. This second workshop will study the history of medicine as a subdiscipline within the medical humanities and its possible contributions to dealing with medical uncertainty.

The origin of the medical humanities in the United States goes back to the 1960s, when a small group of people started to criticise existing medical education and were committed to change it in the direction of a more open attitude towards the ‘soft’ humanities. The increasing popularity of this field within the Nordic countries is of a much more recent date, and certainly Finland seems to lag a bit behind in this respect, the Research Center for Culture and Health in Turku being one of the only groups currently specialising in this direction. However, even in a country such as the United Kingdom, where the field is well established and where most undergraduate medical programmes offer either mandatory or optional courses in one or more humanities subjects at some point in the degree, Colin Blakemore (former chief executive of the Medical Research Council) still senses “quite a lot of hostility to the medical humanities among the still-dominant genes and molecules approach to medicine”.[1]

Against this background, the aim of this second workshop is to study the place of history of medicine within the medical humanities as a possible answer to the continuous challenge of medical uncertainty. Even though the medical humanities are by definition an interdisciplinary endeavour, the focus is explicitly on one discipline within this group, yet in close collaboration between historians, medical practitioners, and possibly other representatives of the humanities as well.

We hope possible participants will discuss these and relevant themes in their presentations from different fields. To what extent and in which way history of medicine can contribute to a reduction of the intolerance of ambiguity among medical students today? For example, through the similarity between historical methodology and clinical decision making as well as through the historical content, for instance, by focusing on the embedding of so-called ‘objective’ medical knowledge in the wider social and cultural context and thus pointing to the huge differences in medical practices in time and place, or by discussing the alternating approaches towards the division or unity of body and soul in a long-term historical perspective. Moreover, how can the interest be stimulated among students of medicine in a subject of which they do not experience the immediate relevance? This is a particularly prevalent question also because history of medicine seems to contradict the striving for objectivity and for the reduction of insecurity in the general pattern of their training.

The aim of the workshop is not only to deal with this topic from a theoretical perspective, but also to look for its practical implications and to study concrete examples of good practices. We are convinced that a new programme for the medical humanities should involve a radical concern with cultural (and historical) dimensions of health as more than a subjective dimension outside the realm of medical science. Geographically the primary focus is on the Nordic countries, but certainly not exclusively. In general, we encourage participants to give a wide interpretation to the themes to be discussed in the workshop, as presented above.


Practical instructions

Proposals for presentations (approximately 400 words) should be submitted to Pieter Dhondt () before the 1st of December 2021.

Presentations should be no longer than 25 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of discussion.

In principle and if the corona situation allows it, the workshop will be organised live in order to create the perfect conditions for intensive discussions and exchange of ideas. However, if necessary, the workshop will be organised online. Remote presentations are welcome in any case, for those researchers who cannot attend the workshop live for whatever reason.

All costs for the participants (including travel and accommodation expenses) will be covered by funding from the Joint Committee for Nordic Research Councils for the Humanities and the Social Sciences (NOS-HS). We encourage participants to travel by train, ferry or coach as much as possible in order to limit the ecological impact of the workshop. We have sufficient funding available to cover possible additional costs.

The results of the workshop will be submitted for publication as an edited volume in the series “Routledge Advances in Medical Humanities”.


Organising committee: Pieter Dhondt, Sari Aalto and Saara-Maija Kontturi (University of Eastern Finland), Jonatan Wistrand (Lund University).


Scientific committee: Sari Aalto (University of Eastern Finland), Pieter Dhondt (University of Eastern Finland),  Eivind Engebretsen (University of Oslo), Anne Katrine Kleberg Hansen (University of Copenhagen), Saara-Maija Kontturi (University of Eastern Finland), Peter Nilsson (Lund University) and Jonatan Wistrand (Lund University).

[1] B. Jack, “The rise of the medical humanities”, Times Higher Education (22.01.2015), https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/the-rise-of-the-medicalhumanities/2018007.article.