Study in the humanities doesn't just expand understanding of society and culture - it can also bring new insight to other fields of study. Two good examples of this are the medical and environmental humanities.
As part of a new master's level course offered by the School of African and Gender Studies, Anthropology and Linguistics (AXL), titled 'Medicine and the Arts', students in humanities and the health sciences can explore the intersections of their disciplines. Medical anthropologist Dr Susan Levine - who, alongside Health Sciences Professor Steve Reid, is driving the medical humanities movement - explains: "Each seminar is presented by an artist, a social scientist and a medical practitioner, in discussion with one another in what have been called 'radical trios'. For example, the session titled 'The Heart of the Matter: A Matter of the Heart', had Johan Brink (heart surgeon), Peter Anderson (poet) and a heart recipient in conversation at UCT's heart transplant museum at Groote Schuur Hospital, the site of the historic first heart transplant in 1967."
UCT will play host to a conference on the medical humanities in August 2014, with discussions of an MPhil in the medical humanities currently under way. Subject to Senate approval, UCT is also set to launch an MPhil specialising in the environmental humanities in 2015 - a collaboration that currently includes academics in science, engineering and the built environment, law, and the humanities (with 'budding conversations' in commerce and health sciences as well.)
Environmental humanities course convenor Lesley Green explains why such a degree is important: "At a time when crucial debates about the management of the biosphere and ecological resources are often trapped in a polemic between 'development' and 'the environment', an initiative in the environmental humanities at the University of Cape Town will offer a space in which to reimagine and reconfigure the terms of the conversation."
As part of this degree, studies encompassing comparative literatures and creative arts, decolonial thought, debates on development and land, and studies of science and democracy will be drawn on in a larger dialogue on the making of an environmental public in the Southern African region. "Students will be able to bring issues of collective life and wellbeing into dialogue with contending versions of 'nature' and 'environment'. It's particularly exciting to see a new graduate course taking shape titled 'Environmental Conflicts', which Lance van Sittert is convening, and which will have a different theme every year, starting with fisheries in 2015. The aim will be to bring current debates onto campus at a depth that enables us to hear from many different sectors and disciplines," says Green.
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