Medical Humanities

Organizers: Richard Sha and Keren Hammerschlag


This working  group seeks to develop a dialogue among the humanities and the history of medicine, history of science, and public health.  Our long-term goals are to pursue galvanizing partnerships with institutions like the National Library of Medicine and the Smithsonian, and to develop an array of talks and working groups that strive to better understand such issues as how race is medicalized in history; how notions of skin come to the fore in art, and why this matters; how cultural works are connected to issues of health; how viruses are narrativized and represented in the public imaginary.


Spring 2018

  • Friday February 2, 2018,  1 pm. Battelle 228.

Professor Susan Sidlauskas, Rutgers University

“An unlikely alliance: John Singer Sargent and the Physics of Touch” 

When physicists think about touch, they are aware that molecules between skin prevent actual contact.  In this talk, renowned art historian Professor Susan Sidlauskas, considers how John Singer Sargent turns to skin to push the conceptual limits of form and touch. Sidlauskas’ work in progress, John Singer Sargent and the Physics of Touch, presents a new framework for a painter who is generally beloved by curators and the public, but comparatively neglected by ambitious modernists within the academy. The book argues that Sargent was far more than a chronicler of the Gilded Age upper classes at their most intemperate. In his most ambitious later portraits, he wielded the material of paint as energetically and inventively as any avant-garde painter of the early 20th century. Through a series of case studies, I make the case that Sargent belongs not only to the history of modernism, from which he is often exiled, but to the cultural history of science.

Click here for Professor Sidlauskas’ website. Be sure to check out her awesome gallery!




  • Wednesday March 21, 2018,  12:30 pm. Battelle 228.

Professor Keren Hammerschlag, Georgetown University

“Beauty, Biology and Race in Victorian Painting” 

This talk will seek to challenge the traditional story of the unwavering belief of the Victorians in their racial superiority by examining the ways in which Victorian artists, especially members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, used paint to reinforce and undermine the biological basis of racial difference.

Click here to check out Professor Hammerschlag’s book.



Interested in joining?

Email: karen.hammerschlag at georgetown dot edu or rcsha at american dot edu