Profile of a FWIS: Literature and Public Health

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FWIS 191: Literature and Public Health

An interview with Sophia Hsu, Instructor

How did you get interested in this particular topic?
I'm writing a dissertation about the Victorian literary origins of public health, particularly about how the idea of the population as something that can be controlled and cultivated emerged in the nineteenth century. This project has shown me that the concept of public health is not only about scientific and medical advances but also about the broader issue of who we consider to be part of the "public," as well as what we consider to be "health." In FWIS 191, we'll ask ourselves: Who belongs to the "public" that public health policies try to target? Who gets left out of that "public"? What are the social, political, and ethical implications of improving the health of certain populations but not others? And how do we decide which aspects of health are deemed significant enough to address? Throughout the semester, we'll discuss these questions by analyzing novels, movies, and a variety of nonfictional writings. We'll also talk about how literature and culture help shape our understandings of public health.

What is one thing you hope students draw from this FWIS?
Content-wise, I hope students will be able to recognize and critique how the notion of public health has been deployed for a range of political and social issues. I hope students will be able to see how our ideas about community (whether that community is as large as the globe or as small as a city) and our ideas about health (is health only about epidemic disease? and is epidemic disease only a medical concept?) greatly influence public health policies. Skills-wise, I hope students will learn how to become comfortable with writing and communication. While I don't think writing and communication are necessarily skills that someone "masters," I think that learning how to be okay with the difficulty of those skills is the first step to improving.

What advice do you have for first-year students (about FWIS or their first semester in general)?
My advice for first-year students is to be open and willing to learn! College is a weird and amazing experience academically and personally. Be bold and step out of your comfort zone; try something new both inside and outside of the classroom.