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Thrailkill and Jordynn Jack
Jane Thrailkill, left, and Jordynn Jack

In the context of aging, how does one capture the experience of a fear of falling and breaking one’s hip?

This is where Health Humanities answers with research from two seemingly disparate disciplines for the public good.

“A mingling of the health sciences with the text tools, critical techniques of the humanistic disciplines,”  is how Jane Thrailkill describes the work of the Health Humanities: An Interdisciplinary Venue for Exploration (HHIVE) at UNC. Thrailkill is the director and, together with and Jordynn Jack as associate director, they work to unite faculty in students to merge health science and the humanities.

According to Jack, “health fields go beyond the medical as well.” She cites Gillings School of Public Health, a No. 1 institution in this field, as one of the examples of the discipline’s wider appeal in looking at health beyond the stricter medical concepts.

Thrailkill and Jack are faculty in the Department of English and Comparative Literature and Faculty Fellows at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities. They have collaborated on research called “Writing Diabetes: An Interdisciplinary Collaboration Examining the Significance of Illness Essays for Patients, Clinicians, and Researchers.” The project won the inaugural Fostering Interdisciplinary Research Explorations (FIRE) Grant through the UNC Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research.

More recently, they have been chosen internally at UNC to proceed with an application for the Andrew Mellon Foundation’s Sawyer Seminar on the topic of “Longevity and Meaning.”

“Our concept is that a purely biomedical look at aging will be remediation; ward off aging; fix, fix, fix,” says Thrailkill. “We have to figure out how to live with aging. From a humanities perspective, aging… is so much richer than simply a problem. We have more decades than we have before. What are we going to do with these extra decades? We get to live longer.”


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