Teaching Points: Culture, Medicine, & Society: A Graduate Course in the History of Medicine

Editor’s Note: Building on successful contributions by Eoin Cannon and Caroline Acker, Points this week inaugurates a five-part series that looks at teaching alcohol and drugs as history, culture, and policy issue.  Each week we’ll feature two posts on the topic: a complete syllabus, followed by the instructor’s comments, questions, and musings on the teaching experience.  Our aim in this as in all things Point-y is to share work in progress (and yeah, teaching counts!), generate new ideas, and converse across the stupid disciplinary and institutional barriers that the contemporary academic and policy worlds like to throw up around us.  Contributing Editor Joe Gabriel kicks of the series, bringing a History of Medicine perspective to the topic of “Culture, Medicine, and Society.” In the next few weeks, look for Michelle McClellan talking about “Hooked: Addiction and American Culture”; Sarah Carnahan on”Women and Addiction”; Rob Echeverria and Sid Issar on “Drug Hedonism”; and Bruce Bagley on “Drug Trafficking in the Americas.”

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I’ve been on faculty at the Florida State University College of Medicine for four years now, and while I primarily teach medical students I also occasionally have the opportunity to teach in the history department here at FSU. This is the syllabus to a graduate course I put together which I called “Culture, Medicine, and Society.” As you’ll see, the class is a broad overview of the history of medicine in the United States. A mix of graduate students from the history department and from the department of religion took the course, which provided for some very interesting conversations.

Much of the material we covered did not directly overlap with the topics we talk about on this blog. Some of it did – such as our discussions about the history of the pharmaceutical industry – but in general we didn’t spend a significant amount of time talking about drugs, and virtually none talking about alcohol. (The one class I had scheduled to talk about addiction we spent talking about Bruno Latour instead). However, I think the general approach of the course overlaps with some of the conversations we have been having here; one of the themes in the class, for example, is how to think about the relationship between brains, genes, microbes, and other parts of the “material world” and social and cultural “discourses,” such as those of race, gender, and nation. I’ll discuss some of the dynamics in the class around these issues, and how I think the class might be improved, in my next post. For the moment, here is the syllabus. I hope you enjoy it.

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