In the history of medicine, disease and therapeutics have often been explored from the perspective of elites or with a primary focus on theory. Yet, more can be done to consider the ways that medical practices are shaped by historical material forces, including but not limited to the conditions and modes of (re)production.
In this seminar, we will consider how the environment, political economy, and social structures provide a gateway for materia medica. By focusing on materials, this seminar will give an overview of how disease, medicine, and therapeutics have shifted from 1750 until 2000. Spanning a range of disciplines, geographies, and time periods, students in the course will explore recent scholarship that critically engages with disease and healing especially as it relates to imperialism, mapping, race, gender, and sexuality. We will center the subaltern as knowledge producers and examine the shifting and dynamic approaches to therapeutics in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. The term ›subaltern‹ – as adopted by Antonio Gramsci and then popularized by South Asian scholars – offers a critical theory that uncovers the dynamic, dialectic, and material conditions that non-Western people have embodied. Meditating on materials, in a broad sense, can lead to a humanistic and grounded approach to historical materialist perspectives on disease and medicine. How do botany and instruments shape medicine? How do notions about sex and sexuality get incorporated into medicine? How has indigenous medicine been used by colonial regimes?
Students will be expected to interpret a range of textual and physical materials including but not limited to film, oral history, homeopathic treatments, instruments, and the body. Given that students will be working with primary sources, the themes and approach will be beneficial for those in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.