To mark the launch of our Health Humanities collection, Paul Crawford reflects on the role of this rapidly growing field in enriching the social, cultural, and phenomenological experience and understanding of illness, health, and wellbeing.
Health Humanities is a fast-moving, global field that drives inclusive, democratizing applications of the arts and humanities in understanding and transforming healthcare, health and well-being.
As I have argued elsewhere, creative practices in the arts and humanities, from painting and drawing to reading and storytelling, are at the heart of being human and creating community and society. Indeed, we can think of creative practices as providing what I call ‘a shadow health service’, complementing the resources for keeping well and recovering from illness that are available from statutory health service provision but also part of the public’s own contribution to public health. Not everything good for the health and well-being of our populations has to come from medical and health practitioners or through referral to specialist therapists (although these are all welcome). The public has creative capacity for self-care and contributing to the well-being of others through the arts and humanities. Creative practitioners of many kinds, and many cultures, contribute to the physical and mental health of diverse communities without prescription. Creative industries also ‘treat’ our bodies and our minds through multiple cultural assets that can bring joy, relaxation, and positive physical and mental states.
Let us face it, where would we all be without creative public health–that is, the non-clinical yet evidence-based approaches to improving our mental and physical health through activities such as dancing, singing, theatre or reading? For a start, for many, the global pandemic lockdowns would have been unbearable without film streaming, making things, writing, engaging in music, and so forth.
The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Health Humanities builds on the ever-deepening evidence base for such applications. It gathers scholarly entries on a diverse set of creative practices that can contribute powerfully to our lives. It shows that humans need the arts and humanities as much as blood pressure! People find comfort, support and encouragement in different creative interests and engagement. They help people develop new social connections, express their emotions, gain resilience.
The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Health Humanities also brings a wealth of perspectives on how the many arts and humanities disciplines from Literature, Architecture and Music to Philosophy, History and Theology can inform our understanding of how diverse contexts and factors promote or inhibit health. It offers a range of interdisciplinary perspectives about maintaining health, preventing illness and recovering from life’s physical and psychological assaults.
Our contributors come from diverse academic, clinical, therapeutic and creative practice traditions, investigating health and well-being through a variety of academic, social and cultural lenses. In this publication then, you will find an array of definitions and theories of arts and humanities-informed health and well-being. In all, a rainbow of writers reveal the interconnectedness between the state of our minds and bodies, our identities, and creative practices.
Paul Crawford is Professor of Health Humanities at the School of Health Sciences and Director of the Centre for Social Futures at the Institute of Mental Health, University of Nottingham, UK. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA), Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (FAcSS) and Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health (FRSPH). As founding father of the global and rapidly developing field of health humanities, Professor Crawford leads a large program of research in applying the arts and humanities to inform and transform healthcare, health and wellbeing. He is the author of over 140 peer-reviewed articles or chapters and 14 books, including Florence Nightingale at Home (2020), and is Joint Editor-in-Chief for The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Health Humanities.