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Alcorn State University English professors receive NEH Grant

The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded a grant to two English professors at Alcorn State University to enrich science and health care programs with literary studies.

Drs. Dianne Bunch and Lillie Jones co-wrote “Stories That Heal: Embedding Narrative Medicine in the Sciences, English, and Nursing Curricula,” a project on narrative medicine that will train faculty members from the sciences and humanities.

“We were looking for ways to establish closer ties between Alcorn’s School of Nursing, located on the Natchez campus and the Department of English,” said Bunch. “This seemed like a great opportunity to develop a lasting collaboration.”

“It is almost unheard of to be funded by NEH on the first submission,” said Dr. Samuel White, vice president for Academic Affairs. “These two faculty members put together an excellent proposal that offers great promise for collaboration and research at Alcorn.”

Jones said the project will train science, English, and nursing faculty in the field of literature and medicine.

“Through this initiative, faculty from the departments of English and sciences as well as the School of Nursing will work together to create new interdisciplinary courses and then revise their curricula to include courses on literature and medicine,” said Bunch. “At the end of a 12-month training and study period, faculty will be equipped to teach the narrative skills of the humanities, which we believe will help them develop better diagnostic skills and increase empathy with at-risk patients in rural Mississippi.”

Jones said that there are marked similarities between the ways that professors and students in English and nursing read and interpret narratives.

“English professors and majors are trained to read narratives about diverse people with a multiplicity of needs; our science and nursing faculty and students are continually asked to read narratives of their patients through their physicality and the stories they tell,” said Jones. “Therefore, this project will establish a healthy dialogue between seemingly disparate disciplines that actually use similar methods of interpretation – one reads the text; the other reads the body.”

Jones noted that longstanding research supports a close collaboration between medicine and the humanities.

“Research in the area of literature and medicine has been arguing for years that medicine must employ the humanities in order to strengthen medical students’ abilities to reach patients and to lower stress on medical personnel,” said Jones.

The project consists of three phases, beginning spring 2011, said Bunch.

“The first phase is an initial training seminar on literature and medicine, held on the Alcorn State University Natchez campus during May 12-14, 2011,” said Bunch. “Twenty Alcorn faculty participants from the undergraduate sciences and English departments as well as undergraduate and graduate School of Nursing participants will attend.”

The second phase of the project takes place during summer 2011, she said.