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ENGLISH 2NH3 Narratives of Health (C01)

Academic Year: Winter 2019

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Sarah Brophy


Office: Chester New Hall 331

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 22243

Office Hours: Thursdays 3:00-4:00pm or by appointment

Course Objectives:

Course Description:

What do stories and images of embodied life have to teach us about how to care for ourselves and for others? Located at specific intersections of citizenship, community, family, the individual "bodymind," and the environment, narratives of health or of the search or demand for it have the power to shape how we respond to some of the most pressing social justice issues of our time.

In this course, students will be guided to read deeply and to think imaginatively and critically about how health/wellness, disability, illness, trauma, care, kinship, medicine, and healing are envisioned in contemporary culture, in dialogue with studies in decolonization, resistance, migration, race, Indigeneity, and gender/sexuality. Media modes students will study include graphic narrative, literary fiction, film, personal and theoretical essays, photography, and digital storytelling. Considerable emphasis will be placed on the development of critical skills in reading and writing.



  • to familiarize you with narratives of health across a wide range of genres, media modes, and cultural and geographical locations
  • to foster reflective, critical, and creative engagement with ideas of “health,” “wellness,” and “disability”
  • to introduce key concepts in the interdisciplinary fields of critical disability studies and the health humanities, and to equip you to skillfully and insightfully bring important terms and intellectual frameworks into conversation with cultural texts
  • to model the importance of situating and historicizing narratives of health
  • to give you the opportunity to develop your critical reading, writing and thinking skills, through a variety of shorter and longer assignments
  • to engage you in the process of co-creating an equitable and inclusive learning environment, with ongoing attention to accessibility, decolonization, and honoring multiple ways of knowing
  • to encourage you to make connections between narratives of health, media, popular culture, your own lives, and the communities and the world that we inhabit

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Texts:

Bui, Thi. The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir. Abrams ComicArts, 2018.

Fung, Richard. Sea in the Blood, Video Data Bank, 2000.*

Leavitt, Sarah. Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me. Freehand Books, 2010.

Lindberg, Tracey. Birdie: A Novel. HarperCollins, 2015.

Peele, Jordan, dir. Get Out. Universal Pictures, 2017.*

Articles, interviews, videos, etc. as indicated in the week-by-week schedule below. Links and/or PDFs

are posted on Avenue to Learn.

*film on reserve at Mills Library (inquire at main circulation desk)

Recommended Reference Texts:

Adams, Rachel, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin, eds. Keywords for Disability Studies. New York

University Press, 2015. (On reserve at Mills Library; selected keyword essays available online)

MLA Format, Purdue Online Writing Lab

First-Year English and Cultural Studies Handbook  

A good dictionary. Note that the Oxford Dictionary is part of the Oxford Online Reference Suite, which

is available to you at no additional cost through Mills Library.

Method of Assessment:


N.B. See Avenue to Learn for detailed guidelines, topics, and grading criteria. You are asked to format your work in accordance with MLA style guidelines, version 7 or 8.  All assignments are due electronically via A2L (Avenue to Learn) by 11:59 pm on the date indicated.

Thinking Pieces (select 4 of 8 opportunities over the semester; see weekly schedule for dates)       20%

(4 Thinking Pieces @ 300 words x 5% each)                                     

Contributions to Class Lecture Notes Archive (2 uploads x 2.5% each, pass/fail)                            5%

            Must be uploaded within 24 hours after the lecture. Visit A2L to sign up for

            two dates and to see notetaking tips.                                         

Report & Reflection Essay (500 words) on a health-related campus or community event                10%                

            Due Friday Mar 1      

Longer Essay (1500 words)                                                                                                       30%

            Due Friday April 5

Final Exam (2 hours)                                                                                                                 35%

Scheduled by the Office of the Registrar

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Assignment Policy: The short assignments are a form of ongoing assessment designed for maximum flexibility. It is strongly recommended that you complete at least two of the Thinking Pieces and one of the lecture note contributions prior to reading week. Thinking Pieces more than 50 words over the limit will be subject to deductions of one letter grade per 50 words over the limit.  Given the multiple opportunities that are built into this structure, late short assignments will NOT be accepted, and NO short assignments or lecture note uploads will be accepted after Thurs. April 11th. Exceptions may be made for students with SAS accommodations.

Late essays will be penalized one grade per day late up to 7 days. For example, a B+ paper handed in two days late would be lowered to a B-. Saturday and Sunday are included in the calculation of days late. After seven days the grade is zero. Essays more than 100 words over the assigned limit will be subject to similar deductions (deduction of one letter grade per 100 words over the limit). Students must go through the appropriate channels (i.e. contacting Dr. Brophy and your Faculty Office) before any deadline extensions or alternate examination arrangements can be considered. Students are expected to retain copies of all work submitted for the course.

Attendance, Preparation, and Participation:

Active, thoughtful, empathetic, and respectful participation in lectures and online discussions is expected, as is an ongoing commitment to sustaining an equitable and inclusive classroom environment, one that is free from harassment and discrimination.

Students are required and encouraged to engage thoughtfully with the course materials and to do their very best to keep up with the schedule.

If you miss a class, be sure to catch up by asking one of your peers to share notes with you, or by referring to the archive of notes that we’ll be building collectively on A2L. Dr. Brophy’s PowerPoint slides will be posted on Avenue after each unit of study; keep in mind that the slides offer outlines only and should not be considered a substitute for complete lecture notes. 

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Week-by-Week Schedule

Dr. Sarah Brophy (Winter 2019)

  • As students, you’re expected and encouraged to engage thoughtfully with the following materials from week-to-week and to do your best to catch up on any missed readings/screenings and lectures.
  • The readings/screening listed here are required, except where I have noted “recommended” in parentheses
  • All articles are available on A2L (see the “Content” tab for PDFs of book chapters and “Links” for online sources).
  • Two films, Sea in the Blood and Get Out, are on reserve for our course at Mills Library; we will screen Sea in the Blood during class time, but you’re asked to view Get Out on your own.
  • Please feel welcome to approach me, Dr. Brophy, if you have any questions or need support to access the materials.

PART 1: What is Health? A Critical Introduction

Tues. Jan. 8: Welcome and Orientation to the Course

Eli Clare, from Brilliant Imperfection (“A Note on Reading this Book: Thinking about Trigger Warnings”)

[2 pp.] (recommended)

Tanya Titchkosky, from The Question of Access (Introduction: “Access as an Act of Perception”) [10 pp.]


Thurs. Jan 10:

Jonathan Metzl, “Why Against Health?” [11 pp.]

Kathleen Lebesco, “Fat Panic and the New Morality” [10 pp.]

Lennard Davis, “Normality, Power, and Culture” [14 pp.]

Nirmala Erevelles, “Race” (from Keywords for Disability Studies) [2.5 pp]

Robert McRuer interview, “What is Crip Theory?” (video)  [3 min]

Tues Jan 15:

Michael Gill and Nirmala Erevelles, “The Absent Presence of Elsie Lacks: Hauntings at the

Intersection of Race, Class, Gender, and Disability” [14 pp.]

Reena Shadaan, “‘I Know about My Own Body… They Lied’: Environmental Justice, and the

Contestation of Knowledge Claims in Institute, WV, and Old Bhopal, India.” [9 pp.]

Thurs Jan 17:

Dawn Martin-Hill speaks with Piya Chattopadhyay, “Why so few people on Six Nations Reserve

have clean running water, unlike their neighbours” (CBC radio interview) [18 minutes]

Audra Simpson, “The State is a Man: Theresa Spence, Loretta Saunders, and the Gender of         

Settler Sovereignty” [8,293 words] (recommended)

Johanna Hedva, “Sick Woman Theory” [5,291 words]

Eli Clare, from Brilliant Imperfection (“Writing a Mosaic,” “A Note on Reading this Book: Thinking about

Trigger Warnings,” “White Pines,” “Ideology of Cure,” “Twitches and Tremors”) [20 pp.]

                                                                *First Thinking Piece opportunity due via A2L

PART 2: Relational Storytelling: Narrative, Representation, Media

Tues Jan 22:

Danielle Peers, “Interrogating Disability: The De-composition of a Recovering Paralympian” [13


Stella Bolaki, from Illness as Many Narratives (Introduction) [25 pp.] (recommended)

Thurs Jan 24:

William Carlos Williams, “The Use of Force” [5 pp.]

In-class screening of Abraham Verghese, “A Doctor’s Touch” (Ted Talk) [18 min]

Anne Boyer, “Data’s Work is Never Done” [1, 167 words]

Johanna Hedva, “Letter to a Young Doctor: A Document of Emergency” [13 pp.]    

                                                                     *Second Thinking Piece opportunity via A2L

Tues Jan 29:

Leslie Marmon Silko, “Lullaby” [8 pp.]

Thurs Jan 31:

Silko, “Lullaby” (cont’d)

Qwo-Li Driskill, “Theatre as Suture” (12 pp.)

@whatbringsushere (public Instagram account), an NFB project by Katherena Vermette & Alicia Smith

Emily Doucet, “Indigenous Activists Speak in New Instagram Documentary” [2,183 words]

                                                                        *Third Thinking Piece opportunity via A2L

Tues Feb 5

Sarah Leavitt, Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me [132 pp. Tip: read the first 50-75

pages before this class meeting]

Amelia DeFalco, “Graphic Somatography: Life Writing, Comics, and the Ethics of Care” [17 pp.]

Thurs. Feb. 7

Leavitt, Tangles (cont’d)

                                                                              *Fourth Thinking Piece opportunity via A2L

Tues. Feb. 12:

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, from Staring: How We Look (Chapter 8: “Faces”) [21 pp.]

Thurs. Feb. 14:

Mia Mingus, “Why Ugliness is Vital in the Age of Social Media” [2,382 words]

Amanda Parris, in conversation with Gloria Swain, “For this Activist, Art is a Lifeline” [1, 289 words]

jes sasche, “Crip the Light Fantastic: Art as Liminal Emancipatory Practice in the 21st Century”

[7 pp.]

** Feb 18-22: Reading Week (no classes) **

PART 3: Historicizing Health Activisms: Past, Present, and Future Visions

Tues Feb 26:

Audre Lorde, Introduction to The Cancer Diaries [7 pp.]

Maren Klawiter, from The Biopolitics of Breast Cancer (Introduction: “Mapping the Contours of

Breast Cancer”) [14 pp.]

*Fifth Thinking Piece opportunity via A2L

Thurs Feb 28:

Jo Spence, “Identity and Cultural Production” [6 pp.] & (with Terry Dennett) “The Picture of

Health” (online photo portfolio)

LaToya Ruby Frazier, “The Notion of Family” (online photo portfolio)

In-class screening & discussion of Sea in the Blood, dir. Richard Fung [21 min]

REMINDER: Event Report & Reflection Papers are due via A2L on Fri. Mar 1

Tues Mar 5:

Sea in the Blood, dir. Fung (cont’d)

Katherine Lawless, “Recirculating Foreign Bodies” [13 pp.]                                                                                           

Thurs Mar 7:

Get Out, dir. Jordan Peele [1 hr 44 min] 

Christina Sharpe, “The Wake” (from In the Wake: On Blackness and Being) [23 pp.]

*Sixth Thinking Piece opportunity via A2L

Tues Mar 12:

Get Out, dir. Peele (cont’d)

Thurs Mar 14:

1st hour: Get Out, dir. Peele (cont’d)

Essay-writing tips and strategies

PART 4: Reconsidering Trauma, Healing, and Recovery

Tues. Mar 19:

Daniel Heath Justice, “Stories that Wound, Stories that Heal” (from Why Indigenous

Literatures Matter) [32 pp.]

Start Tracey Lindberg, Birdie: A Novel [288 pp. Tip: read the first 50-75 pages before this class meeting]

Thurs. Mar 21:

Lindberg, Birdie (cont’d)

*Seventh Thinking Piece opportunity via A2L

Tues. Mar 26:

Lindberg, Birdie (cont’d)

Thurs. Mar 28:

Vinh Nguyen, Thy Phu, and Y-Dang Troeung, “Refugee Compassion and the Politics of

Embodied Storytelling” [4 pp.]

Start Thi Bui, The Best We Could Do [336 pp. Tip: read the first 75-100 pages for this meeting]

                                                                   *Eighth and Final Thinking Piece opportunity via A2L

Tues. Apr 2:

Bui, The Best We Could Do (cont’d)

Thurs. Apr 4:

Bui, The Best We Could Do (cont’d)

REMINDER: Final 1500-word Essays are due via A2L on Fri. Apr 5

Tues. Apr 9:

Concluding Reflections and Exam Review