Kristi Henderson
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

NEH grant will fund new curriculum initiative in global medical humanities

Fri, 05/05/2017

LAWRENCE — Sierra Hurd, a Topeka junior majoring in anthropology and studying the Wolof language, came to the University of Kansas with a goal of becoming a trauma surgeon and working for Médecins Sans Frontières.

Seeking a global perspective on social determinants of health, she found an internship at KU in the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Community Health and Development. As the social media intern, Hurd communicates with people around the world who possess vastly different cultural understandings of community, health and the body. This summer, she will apply this experience to her honors thesis research on public health promotion campaigns in Dakar, Senegal.

In response to undergraduates' demand for high-impact experiential learning opportunities, the School of Languages, Literatures & Cultures and the Work Group for Community Health & Development's Community Tool Box team have collaborated with nearly 50 faculty, staff and regional educators to commence an innovative undergraduate curriculum initiative titled Global Medical Humanities: Bridging Digital Divides in Healthcare.

Led by Kathryn Rhine, associate professor of anthropology, along with Marc Greenberg, director of SLLC, and Vincent Francisco, director of the Work Group, this project recently received a $98,000 Humanities Connection Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop an undergraduate certificate in global medical humanities.

As part of this grant, the group will design an innovative, hands-on "virtual laboratory" capstone course, in which undergraduates apply their foreign language skills, digital techniques of analysis and humanistic modes of inquiry to develop content for the Community Tool Box, an open-access website created, hosted and run by the KU Work Group. This site contains more than 7,000 pages of information for people who want to build healthier communities globally through strategic planning, intervention, evaluation and advocacy. The site had more than 5.8 million unique users from 230 countries in 2015 alone.

Humanities Connections grants support education initiatives that have an interdisciplinary focus and bridge the traditional academic divide between the humanities and non-humanities fields, such as business, engineering and the health sciences. They encourage instruction that implements problem-solving approaches to course materials, where students can put what they are learning into practice in the real world. The Global Medical Humanities program aims to spark undergraduates' critical thinking skills, which will inspire new research directions, enhance their problem-solving abilities and prompt crucial empathetic responses to pressing global social problems.

"The School of Languages, Literatures & Cultures is thrilled to develop the new curricular initiative in Global Medical Humanities, which comports with our mission to teach and research holistically non-English languages and the cultures and literatures in which they are embedded," Greenberg said. "Increasingly our students seek real-world applications for the foreign-language and cultural education they receive in the SLLC, with its unusually wide coverage of some 40 languages of the world. As such, this curriculum will put KU at the forefront of the emerging field of medical humanities and be a great benefit to KU students' futures."

In addition to the Community Tool Box lab experience, the courses planned for the certificate program will investigate critical health and development concerns spanning the globe. Faculty members with affiliations in more than 20 departments proposed approximately 30 new and adapted courses for this curriculum. Just a small sample of classes under development:

  • First Do No Harm: NGOs, Public Health, Volunteerism, Aid Workers, Missionaries and Disaster Tourists in Haiti, in which students will study Haiti's history and culture so they can understand how to interact with communities in a respectful, effective and meaningful manner, led by Cecile Accilien, African & African-American studies.
  • Bioethics Across Intercultural Narratives of Illness, where students will consider Russian, American and European literature through the lens of bioethics, studying how the ethics behind medicine has shifted over time and across different national traditions, led by Ani Kokobobo, Slavic languages & literatures.
  • Global Feminisms: Arts of Intervention, in which students will develop an annotated digital archive of posters, pamphlets and other awareness materials produced in conjunction with women's movements and health interventions around the world, led by Stacey Vanderhurst, women, gender & sexuality studies.
  • Aspirations for A Good Life in East Asia, where students will investigate happiness and the nature of a good life, therapeutic expertise, and other sociocultural practices of healing as uneven globalization has spurred radical socio-economic changes and dislocation across East Asia, led by Kyoim Yun, East Asian languages & cultures.

Future plans include a workshop to develop courses for the certificate; interested faculty members are encouraged to contact Rhine at

Photo: Sierra Hurd, third from left, takes part in last month’s African Languages Festival.​

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