Drawing on multiple literatures from history, geography, anthropology, sociology and literature, this essay asks questions about what we mean by region and why narratives of region should matter to the medical humanities. The essay surveys how region can be used as a lens of analysis, exploring the various academic approaches to region and their limitations. It argues that regions are dynamic but also unstable as a category of analysis and are often used uncritically by scholars. In encouraging scholars working in the medical humanities to be aware that regions are not simple objective or analytical boxes, the essay shows how an awareness of region helps challenge metropolitan whiggism and ideas of core and periphery to give a more prominent place to hinterlands, market towns and rural environments. Furthermore, the essay considers how incorporating region into our understanding of illness can offer new insights. It demonstrates the need for scholars to be attuned to the narratives constructed around regions, suggesting that regions can be viewed as discursive formations that provide a frame for understanding both collective and personal ideas of, and responses to, health and illness, disease and healing, to create what Megan Davies calls a more nuanced ‘intellectual cartography’.
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