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Medical Humanities

Getting started in humanities research

Why Humanities?

Medical humanities is an interdisciplinary field of humanities (literature, philosophy, ethics, history and religion), social science (anthropology, cultural studies, psychology, sociology), and the arts (literature, theater, film, and visual arts) and their application to medical education and practice. 

Medical humanities research is approached differently from the natural sciences, where data and hard evidence are required to draw conclusions. Because the human experience cannot be adequately captured by facts and figures alone, humanities research employs methods that are historical, interpretive, and analytical in nature.

Those engaged in humanities research pose questions about common assumptions, uncover new meanings in artistic works, or find new ways to understand cultural interactions. They are interested in raising questions and offering strong but tentative answers, not indisputable solutions.

How do I research a humanities topic?

If you are new to the humanities, you may find it a little odd to conduct research without performing your own experiments or collecting data. Humanities research is all about delving deeply into a topic, finding original sources, evaluating secondary sources, and coming to your own conclusions as a result.

The resources you will be using are usually divided into primary and secondary sources.

  • Primary sources - original material, created at the time of the event or by the subject you are studying.
    • includes personal letters, autobiographies, original works of art, newspaper accounts of an event as it happened, field notes, and more
    • closest you can get to your actual subject, unfiltered by later scholars and critics
  • Secondary sources - works that analyze the primary sources
    • includes academic journal articles, books about a subject or person, or critical reviews

As you review resources, you may wind up refining your topic several times.