Humanitas: Readings in the Development of the Medical Humanities

Dolan , Brian

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin
  • Date of entry: Jan-19-2016
  • Last revised: Jan-19-2016


Brian Dolan has done a great service for the field of medical humanities through his efforts in putting together this volume. Its 19 reprinted articles cover the spectrum of disciplines/fields/methodologies that anchor our work:  history, literature, film, theater, arts, narrative, storytelling, critical (disability) studies, human values, and professionalism. His opening essay, “One Hundred Years of Medical Humanities: A Thematic Overview” very pertinently and extremely ably sets the stage for the remainder of the book. Quite helpfully, authors of “recently published articles,” in this instance from 1987 on, were asked “to reflect on their piece and add introductory comments that would help frame it, or enable them to address issues raised since its original publication” (p.167).  To the reader’s benefit, almost all of those contemporary authors did so.  As cited on the book’s  back cover, the work of some of our field’s most important educators are in this volume, including contributions from Erwin Ackernecht, Gretchen Case, Rita Charon, Jack Coulehan, Thomas Couser, Lester Friedman, Kathryn Montgomery Hunter, Paul Ulhaus Macneill, Guy Micco, Martha Montello, Edmund Pellegrino, Suzanne Poirier, Johanna Shapiro, Abraham Verghese, and Delese Wear. 


This book is a wonderful way to ground (or reground oneself) in the field of medical humanities. I especially enjoyed the editor’s opening chapter which provided me with a much deeper understanding of our field’s history. I found particularly fascinating within that essay his thorough treatment of the development of the Society for Health and Human Values. (Another important source for the history of our field’s development in the 1960’s is Daniel M. Fox’s article “Who we are: the political origins of the medical humanities”, Theoretical Medicine 6 (1985), 327-342.) Although I had read a number of the reprinted articles previously, returning to them in this rich context allowed me to appreciate many of them even more so. 


University of California Medical Humanities Press

Place Published

San Francisco, CA




Brian Dolan

Page Count