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This issue brings together scholars of philosophy, medicine, history, art history and psychiatry to consider the theme of ‘patienthood’, to ponder what being a patient means in historic and modern terms, to discuss the practitioner/patient relationship, to contribute to pedagogy and ongoing debates in the medical humanities.i By focusing on two main themes, narratives and pedagogy, this issue builds on the advances and responds to the ‘clarion calls’ of the previous special edition, which asked what critical medical humanities might represent.1
Angela Woods argues that there are limitations to narrative medicine, its strides notwithstanding, and suggests that the range of skills and ways of retrieving stories of illness needs to diversify.2 We begin this special issue with a five-essay section, each uses a different narrative form to explore the concept of patienthood: four use historical records and one, Martyn Evans, draws on personal experience. By narrative forms we mean the ways in which stories are told and recorded, from above (by clinicians), below (reflecting elements of a patient's vantage) and from observational viewpoints, that is, accounts of medieval illness and cures transcribed by independent observers. Our contributions span from medieval Tuscany to modern Ireland and Britain, and thus they offer a wide range of insights into how patienthood was conceptualised, described and experienced over the last 500 years. The purpose of this section is to tease out the advantages of using an historical lens and the various branches of the historical sciences to expand understandings of how narratives are constructed. Each shows the importance of proper cultural contextualisation, how the case study approach can enrich our knowledge of the evolution of medical relationships and how the sick perceived their illness and treatment. Keir Waddington has recently cautioned about the instability of using regions as an analytical framework and …
↵i This volume emanates from talks delivered at an Irish Research Council-funded symposium held at the Royal Irish Academy in 2014. It was originally intended that the volume would be published in 2015 but since 2014 two of our contributors were undergoing their own real life perspectives on patienthood as they tended to the needs of ailing parents and suffered devastating loss. As they held it up and helped it along, it is only fitting that this volume is dedicated to Joan Lawless and Andrew Sneddon (Senior).
↵ii For instance at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. See also reference 7.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.
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