Faculty Focus: Science, Meet Humanities

Alison Essary, Clinical Associate Professor and Director of Student Affairs, College of Health Solutions
Mark Lussier, Professor of English and Senior Sustainability Scholar
Arizona State University

Like many things at Arizona State University, our summer study abroad program – “Florence, Italy: Exploring Science and Medicine through Art and Literature” – began as a chance meeting, when we accidentally sat next to each other for an address from our president, Michael Crow, to the academic assembly. As we introduced ourselves and talked about research and teaching commitments, significant intersections emerged, which reflected the current transdisciplinary trajectory of work at the “New American University.” We work in different colleges (College of Health Solutions and College of Liberal Arts & Sciences) with seemingly divergent missions, yet the first fruits of our conversation, focused on the narrative element within diverse medical settings, led to a conference paper and research publication.

At our institution, an initiative was launched by the Institute for Humanities Research to explore the inner-connections of this emerging and important field, although its mission has a research, rather than curricular, thrust. We had already begun, separately and together, to stimulate curricular offerings in what is termed “healthcare” or “medical” humanities (e.g. undergraduate certificate in healthcare humanities and pan-university concentration in medical humanities).

Given the enriched intellectual environment, we committed to the creation of a summer program to provide students an intensified encounter with the development of science and medicine and its reflection in art and literature. No better place to undertake such an effort can be found than Florence, Italy (although we supplement its offerings with a day-long excursion to Bologna). The city stands at the heart of the explosion of knowledge in virtually every area of human effort, and whether one studies the ceramics in the Museum Galileo (formerly the History of Science Museum) or the wax figures in the Lo Specolo (within Natural History Museum) the relationship of art and medical science is easily seen.

When we sought the best support for our somewhat unusual program, we chose Accent, since, after reviewing several companies, the proposal proffered by our colleagues in the Accent Florence site embraced our approach. Subsequently, they also embodied our aspirations and ideas to an uncommon and unexpected degree, and we are looking forward to working with our Accent colleagues again this summer, who have again offered guidance and accommodated our changes. Andiamo in Italia!