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Ten years of medical humanities: a decade in the life of a journal and a discipline
  1. H M Evans1,
  2. D A Greaves2
  1. 1Centre for Medical Humanities, School of Medicine and Health, Durham University, Durham, UK
  2. 2School of Health Science, University of Wales Swansea, Swansea, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor H M Evans, Centre for Medical Humanities, School of Medicine and Health, Durham University, Trevelyan College, Elvet Hill Road, Durham DH1 3LN, UK; h.m.evans{at}

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A characteristic feature of the emergence of new subdisciplines is the development of a journal, and it might seem that this is what happened when Medical Humanities first appeared on the scene 10 years ago. But an examination of the history of medical humanities shows that it does not fit so readily into this simple pattern.

The term ‘medical humanities’ was coined in the United States in the 1960s, but gained currency in Britain only gradually in the 1990s. For some this did indeed approximate to a new medical subdiscipline, re-establishing and promoting the neglected relationship between medicine and the arts; but for others it was a novel interdisciplinary perspective which sought to reunify the arts and sciences in medicine as a whole and so provide a more rounded and humanitarian approach that rejected the notion of a subdiscipline altogether.

These contrasting views, dubbed ‘additive’ and ‘integrated’ respectively, have meant that the rationale for medical humanities has always been contested. This has led some to challenge the academic credentials of this new enterprise because they cannot be clearly located within an established and respected parent discipline. For others the whole point has been to create a new academic space capable of transcending conventional disciplinary rules. So, not surprisingly, no single defined academic pattern has arisen that could provide a readymade audience for a journal; instead, a diverse group of academics, practitioners and interested citizens coalesced through a groundswell of common concern about the overall direction and shortcomings of medicine and health care.

This set of factors has then been reflected in the origins and growth of Medical Humanities. First of all it did not arise as the independent journal that it now is, but was initially fashioned as a special issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics, the …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.