About the Course

What usually comes to mind when we think of public health? Epidemic disease? Decaying bodies? Heroic doctors and scientists? And yet, to the World Health Organization, health is “not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” but “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.” If we apply this definition of health to our ideas of public health, then a more capacious understanding of the concept emerges—an understanding that combines not only the biological and medical but also the social, environmental, global, governmental, and legal.

Zika, Ebola, AIDS, gun violence, birth control, climate change, healthcare reform: these are just some of the wide-ranging issues concerning public health today. But how do the realities of public health correspond with popular conceptions of it? How do depictions of the objects and subjects of public health reinforce, enhance, or complicate our understanding of the position of public health in our contemporary world? This course will examine how these depictions help us rethink our understandings of “health,” as well as our understandings of the “public” that public health policies are supposed to target. Through analyses of novels, short stories, newspaper and journal articles, and films, we will explore the concept of public health and its gendered, racial, class, and global connotations.

Since this is a writing-intensive course, we will use our readings about public health to develop our written, oral, and visual communication skills. Critical reading, engaged discussion, and argumentative writing are intimately related processes; accordingly, we will practice and discuss these skills separately and together throughout the semester. Assignments are designed to build and refine these skills and will include critical writing exercises, argumentative essays, blog posts, and oral presentations. To ensure success with these assignments, we will spend time practicing and discussing strategies for written and oral argumentation, organization, analysis, and revision. Broadly speaking, this course seeks to acclimate first-year students to academic life and will do so by helping students find their academic voices in both writing and speech.

FWIS Learning Objectives:

  • Enhance students’ understanding of the central place of writing and communication in the learning process and in academic life.
  • Learn strategies for analyzing, synthesizing, and responding to college-level readings.
  • Improve students’ ability to communicate correctly and effectively in writing and in speech, taking into account audience and purpose.
  • Become comfortable with writing as a process and learn strategies—for instance, prewriting, outlining, and revision—for working through that process.
  • Learn appropriate use of the work of others and, where necessary, specific practices of citation.
  • Learn to articulate oral arguments and to respond productively to arguments of others in formal presentations and in class discussion.

“Literature and Public Health” Learning Objectives:

  • Develop critical reading, writing, and oral communication skills.
  • Learn to interpret a wide variety of texts through close reading, critical discussion, and analytical writing.
  • Learn to write clear, effective, and argumentative essays that enter and intervene into already existing critical conversations.
  • Recognize, identify, and articulate arguments about key concepts of public health.
  • Gain introductory knowledge about the history of public health and its cultural representations.