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The Summer Institute in the Arts & Humanities

Overview - 2013 Summer Institute

Outbreak! Reimagining Death and Life, Disease and Health

Thirteenth Annual Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities
An Intensive Introduction to Scholarly Research for Undergraduates

June 24th - August 23rd, 2013

The 2013 Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities will explore how we understand, interpret and represent disease 'outbreaks.' Outbreak stories and their associated images, maps, and movies tend to have a predictable structure that make disease threats appear external and foreign, obscuring the more complex connections between populations. Specifically, figures like 'pestilent foreigners,' 'exotic animals' or 'heroic disease detectives' tend to obscure global food systems, economic ties, and ecological disruptions that either create vulnerability or actually breed new diseases. How then can we re-map such ties and re-tell disease stories in ways that also enable the re-imagination of global health?

Examples such as SARS, H1N1, H5N1, HIV/AIDS, and Colony Collapse Disorder provide examples of how the complex origins of various diseases get simplified in contemporary accounts. Restoring other contexts to these stories - by, for instance, considering the cultural relations between humans and animals, or what we eat and how we produce food - allows us to reimagine how outbreaks evolve and what they mean. How do such political, geographical, temporal, and cultural forces shape the course of outbreaks and how we understand them? How do outbreaks conjure dreams of control, management, and security, on the one hand, and how do these compute with diverse desires for flourishing, community, and care for self and others? As we seek other ways of accounting for outbreaks, we'll look to alternative stories of global diffusion and dissemination, like, for example, the spread of inventions.

Students will develop original research projects that re-depict or re-tell the story of a particular outbreak in ways that challenge traditional borders of life and death, health and disease, security and danger. Potential areas of inquiry include geographies of blame (e.g. "Bird Flu" from Asia, "Swine Flu" from Mexico), ethics controversies over animal research, popular film representations of outbreaks, the politics and economics of disease control, to name only a few possibilities. Students may develop their research through methods that include ethnography, digital humanities, textual and media analyses, critical readings of texts, geo-histories, and/or critical cartographies. Research products might take diverse forms, including essays, art, maps, multimedia exhibits, or a zine. But all these experiments in re-presentation will ultimately be evaluated in terms of how well they enable us to reimagine new possibilities for global health.