Seated woman speaking at an FRN event while other attendees listen attentively

Do No Harm: Health, Disease, and Society from Antiquity to Today

Human health is a precarious matter. COVID-19 has laid bare not only the fragility of our bodily well-being on a mass scale, but it has exposed both the social ties and fault lines which define communities. The ills of the body politic—its institutional failings and systemic inequities—have reproduced themselves in the sick bodies of its citizens. The traumatic visibility of these events has sparked calls to radically reimagine our communities, to re-envision the ways in which we live, labor, govern and take care of one another. But it also demands that we consider the nature of health itself and what it means to be healthy. Was, or is, health ever solely the matter of sound and invisible bodily functioning? Where does the healthy, individual body begin and the web of interpersonal, economic, political, even religious forces surrounding it end? That is, when is the body not the body politic?

This seminar will address these questions and more by exploring conceptions of health, disease, and ways of taking care from the ancient world to modernity. Moving from the palace cultures of ancient Babylon and pharaonic Egypt to the city states of Greece and cosmopolis of Rome, we will examine how early medical ideas of health and sickness were contoured and contested by prevailing social, economic, and religious factors. But so too, similar and shifting pressures influence our ideas of “wellness” today, as gym memberships and cold-pressed juice betoken lifestyle as much as of health, and vaccination becomes a shibboleth of political affiliation. While (happily) the differences between our world and Galen’s remain many and substantial, it remains true that a deep exploration of ancient health can reveal profound truths about our own health-scape. This seminar is designed for historians and faculty who teach across interdisciplinary disciplines, the sciences, and the humanities.

Seminar Schedule. Seminars run Monday to Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with a midday communal lunch. Seminar conveners may adjust the class schedule in response to participant needs. Special events may also be held during the week. Participants are required to attend the full week of seminar meetings and maintain 90% attendance overall.

Seminar Materials. Eligible participants are provided with all required seminar materials (books, articles, laboratory equipment, and entrance fees).

Accommodations & Meals. Limited housing accommodations are provided to participants who live more than 50 miles from the program site. All admitted participants are provided with some meals during the program period.

Application Procedure. Applicants should submit the completed application along with all of the following:

  • A statement of intent that indicates how the seminar participant will apply what is learned at the home institution
  • A current CV
  • A letter of support from either the division dean or department head, who is well-acquainted with the applicant’s area of research
  • Their institutional liaison officer’s approval