Building a Transdisciplinary Research Network in an Emerging Field: The Medical Humanities


The Medical Humanities is an emergent and multi-disciplinary field of research, concerned with the social dimensions of medical science and practice. It examines the cultural aspects of health and medicine, drawing on historical, philosophical, artistic and other humanities perspectives. Its aim is to foreground the impact of the wider cultural context in which medicine is practiced, and its meaning and effects.

In the UK, EU and US, Medical Humanities is emerging as an important new field of research, recognised as a site of productive engagement between research in the humanities and medical sciences. The Medical Humanities in the Australian academy is at a more formative stage.

The UQ Medical Humanities research network was established at the Institute for Advanced Studies in 2017. Its goal is to develop a genuinely transdisciplinary approach to the Medical Humanities, one that actively works to bring HASS and STEM perspectives into a closer and more productive dialogue.


There is an increasing interest in the potential of transdisciplinary research to address the complex issues and challenges facing the contemporary world. The HASS fields have much to contribute to research currently concentrated in the STEM fields related to health and well-being. The medical humanities provides an opportunity to develop a transdisciplinary dialogue between colleagues on HASS and STEM fields with a shared interest in medicine and health.

The immediate goals of the Medical Humanities network are:

  • to produce a genuinely transdisciplinary approach to the Medical Humanities, one that will provide models of productive collaboration across the HASS and STEM sectors applicable to other emergent research fields.
  • to bring HASS and STEM perspectives into a closer dialogue around issues of shared concern regarding health and well-being, and to foreground and build HASS and STEM disciplinary strengths within a creative and transdisciplinary context.
  • to develop a distinctively Australian agenda for the Medical Humanities in the national context, while actively pursuing collaborative relationships with key international and industry partners.
  • to ensure a strong research-teaching nexus, fostering a collaborative culture for the next generation of HASS and STEM researchers.

Strategic Development

The research network draws on the strengths of IASH in the histories of science, medicine and sexuality, and on the wide range of related research located in HPI, as well as the increasingly large network of self-identified Medical Humanities’ researchers that have emerged over the past two years.

All Medical Humanities events held at UQ to date have included colleagues from the STEM fields as well as across the HASS Faculty, along with scholars from associated fields nationally and internationally.

The core team has leveraged small projects and events into a series of ongoing and rapidly developing collaborations. This has produced a strong initial momentum. For instance, a QUEX-funded PhD scholarship, co-located at IASH and in the Wellcome-funded “Rethinking Sexology” programme at the University of Exeter, enabled a symposium at UQ attended by our Exeter colleagues. Holding small events has developed a strong and diverse membership base, and facilitated larger grants and collaborative projects.

An important aspect of our strategic approach to developing the Medical Humanities has been to focus on building a research/teaching nexus, providing training for the next generation of transdisciplinary scholars, and bridging the divide between UQ teaching and research cultures. This includes a number of cross-faculty research methods teaching initiatives, including 7 research assistant students from the HASS course WRIT3613: History in Action, and 4 research assistant students from the Faculty of Medicine course MEDI7281: Foundations in Medical Research, co-supervised by HASS and Medical Faculty staff.

Current Membership

The Medical Humanities research network at UQ is now co-located between IASH and HPI in the HASS Faculty. It has 79 members spread across a diverse range of organisational units, including the Medical Faculty, the school of nursing and midwifery, the school of human movement, the school of public health and the law school.

Researchers, Teaching Staff and HDR students:

  • 47 HASS members (from IASH, HPI, SCA and Social Science)
  • 12 Medical Faculty members
  • 6 School of Nursing and Midwifery members
  • 5 School of Human Movement members
  • 3 School of Public Health members
  • 6 Law School members




Research Teaching Initiatives

  • HIST2030: History of Medicine, Science and the Body (2015-2019, foundational medical humanities research methods course, with enrolments from HASS, Faculty of Science, Faculty of Medicine and HABS)
  • MEDI7281: Foundations in Medical Research (2019, 4 Research Assistant Students in Medical Humanities Research Projects)
  • WRIT3613: History in Action (2019, 7 Research Assistant Students in Medical Humanities Research Projects)

Current Funding

Potential Collaborations in Development

  • An ARC Linkage application is currently in development with MAAS, building on pilot collaborations trialled during the Research Fellowship.
  • Collaboration with the CRC Longevity bid, based in the Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences
  • Collaboration with Alasdair Foster (Public Health) in a bid to join, and organise events in connection to a cross-institutional international network on ‘Compassion’.
  • Collaboration with the UQ-based Indigenist Health Network.
  • Collaboration with the Integrated Pathology Learning Centre, UQ Herston Campus.
  • Collaboration with the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, UQ Herston Campus.