"Medical Narratives"? - Dr. Emily James

March 20, 2018
Headshot of Emily James (English)

Dr. Emily James is a faculty member in the English Department, and she focuses on modernism and twentieth-century British literature and culture.

"Both my teaching and research have allowed me to explore the medical humanities, an exciting development in the study and practice of medicine," she says. "Colleges and universities across the country, from Stanford and UC Berkeley to Columbia and Harvard, have begun to incorporate the arts and humanities into medical education and clinical practice. The aim of these programs is to create a medical culture defined by empathy, compassion, and social justice."

Here at University of St. Thomas, students take on these issues in Dr. James' English 202: Medical Narratives, which is part of the Core Curriculum and an elective in the SMDS minor. In the course, students read a range of literary texts—novels, short stories, poems, and essays—and write about a wide array of topics: the history of the pacemaker, medical surveillance, the ethical dimensions of cloning, and today’s vaccine controversy.

Ella Morone (Biochemistry) is a SMDS minor and took Dr. James' course.

"Medical Narratives gave me a way to think critically not just about the ‘what’ of medicine, but the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ of medicine," Morone says. "It is an amazing opportunity to explore how we talk about medicine and science, and how we communicate that intimate, universal experience – with all its pains and joys and progress – to each other."

In her  own research, Dr. James has examined the lexical formations of empathy in writings by Virginia Woolf, Susan Sontag, and Leslie Jamison. She is especially interested in uncovering how clinicians perform and articulate empathy, and why their words matter.

"I’m excited to teach in the SMDS curriculum, and looking forward to projects and collaborations with students from across the university."