IHR Health: Health Humanities Initiative


If there is anything the global experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic have revealed, it is that human health is shaped by and depends on cultural practices and values. Although health is often equated with biomedicine and assumed to be the focus of research exclusively in the medical and sometimes behavioral sciences, it cannot be adequately understood or supported without attention to the narratives, values and cultural products and institutions that human communities create and uphold. These building blocks of cultures of health are the focus of the humanities and the qualitative social sciences, and human flourishing greatly depends on them.

The IHR Health Humanities Initiative (IHRHealth) works to promote research and interdisciplinary collaborationsbetween the university, community networks, and clinical partnersthat address health as a cultural idea, value and practice. Its fundamental mission is to guide and support public discussions about health equity, justice, and access, and to explore creative cultural approaches to promoting care for all.

Scholars, professionals, artists and activists working with IHRHealth bring their expertise to analyzing various cultural forces:

  • the stories told about illness, mortality, and the body;

  • the ethics of care and wellbeing;

  • the politics of representation and distribution of health resources;

  • the way history generates and informs current structures of healthcare and the clinic;

  • and the myriad ways stigmas, stereotypes and language or cultural difference influence and can undermine access to medical resources and just systems of care.

IHR Health includes researchers working in the established fields of narrative medicine, bioethics, philosophy of science, biocultural studies, history of medicine, translation studies, and disability studies. In concert with those studying embodiment, particularly in scholarly communities addressing race, class, gender, and sexuality, it also seeks to develop research capacity in these fields. It also supports those who are focused on reforming healthcare training and practice and working to promote structural awareness, diversity and cultural humility in the health professions.

We currently organize and sponsor events to build research capacity and public engagement with the field and offer an interdisciplinary undergraduate certificate in Health Humanities that is available for students pursuing any major at ASU, with more curricular programs in development.





Plagues, Epidemics and Culture: Histories of Crisis and Care

Engaging with scholars focused on the histories and representations of epidemics, this series explores what can be learned from historical changes in the cultures of care that arose from those crises. Speakers also address how histories of bias, racism and colonialism are intimately bound up in the history of epidemics.

Initiative Director: Cora Fox

Cora Fox is Associate Professor in the Department of English at Arizona State University. She has led IHRHealth to develop research capacity in the health humanities at ASU since 2013. She is the author of Ovid and the Politics of Emotion in Elizabethan England (Palgrave, 2009) and co-edited, with Barbara Weiden Boyd, the MLA Approaches to Teaching the Works of Ovid and the Ovidian Tradition (2010). Her current work focuses on the cultural histories and politics of positive emotions and well-being, as well as the role of narrative in shaping notions of care and community, particularly their exclusions. She is currently working on a book tentatively titled Fictions of Health and Happiness in Early Modern England.