Key-note Lecture "COVID-19 beyond Borders"

Kirsten Ostherr

Tuesday, 6 July 2021 4:00 pm CEST

Kirsten Ostherr (Rice University / University of Texas School of Public Health)

"The Future of Translational Medical Humanities: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic"


Kirsten Ostherr


Over a year into the global pandemic, we have learned how the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus travels across borders and prompts the construction of new barriers against contagion. The successes and failures of global responses to the pandemic have shown that we have much to learn about how the protection of health intersects with social relationships, creative forms of expression, and responses to government force. Although early responses prioritized technological solutions, the persistent need to care for the human condition, in its vulnerability and resilience, has sparked the emergence of a wide range of translational methods for intervening in this global crisis. What can these new translational methods tell us about the future of health humanities? 

The pandemic has shown that infrastructures of care and harm play a powerful role in shaping our health outcomes. These legacies are present throughout the built environments of homes and hospitals, they are embedded in our physical bodies, and they define our digital networks. Medical Humanities can expose these patterns in our health and illness experiences, while also offering new pathways to intervene and improve the well-being of our communities. In this talk, Professor Ostherr will discuss the ways that Medical/Health Humanities can develop translational practices that bring novel insights and methods to frontline pandemic responses, highlighting the importance of collaboration across fields of scholarship and practice, particularly across humanities, public health, engineering, design, and clinical practice. 


Kirsten Ostherr, PhD, MPH is the Gladys Louise Fox Professor of English and Medical Humanities at Rice University in Houston, Texas, where she is a media scholar, health researcher, and technology analyst. She is founder and director of the Medical Futures Lab (2012-present). Her writing about the COVID-19 pandemic has been featured in The Washington Post, STAT, Inside Higher Ed, and American Literature. Kirsten is leading a digital health humanities project called "Translational Humanities for Public Health" that identifies humanities-based pandemic responses from around the world to document and help others build upon these creative efforts. Her research on trust and privacy in digital health ecosystems has been featured in Marketplace Tech on NPR, The Atlantic, STAT, Slate, The Washington Post, Big Data & Society, Catalyst, and the Journal of Medical Humanities. She is the author of Medical Visions: Producing the Patient through Film, Television and Imaging Technologies (Oxford, 2013) and Cinematic Prophylaxis: Globalization and Contagion in the Discourse of World Health (Duke, 2005). Her current book project is called Robot Pathographies: Datafication, Surveillance, and Patient Stories in the Age of Virtual Health.

Kirsten received her PhD in American Civilization from Brown University and her MPH from University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston.