Jane F. Thrailkill (NHC Fellow, 2021–22)
The Agony of Empathy: A Health Humanities Intervention
University of North Carolina at Chapel HillReturn to All Fellows
Fellowship Work Summary, 2021–22
Jane F. Thrailkill researched the history, philosophy, and neuroscience of empathy and re-designed her proposed monograph as a collaborative health humanities project: Understanding Empathy: Perspectives from the Humanities and Health Sciences. To inaugurate the project, Thrailkill recruited fourteen faculty and clinicians from across the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's College of Arts and Sciences and allied health sciences to contribute to a comprehensive interdisciplinary volume of essays addressing the "empathy deficit" in contemporary biomedicine. In the spring of 2022, she facilitated high-level monthly discussions of how empathy operates in healthcare and across scales of interaction: in dyads between patients and clinicians, among clinicians and administrators, across racial and ethnic divisions, and in relation to laws and institutions governing health and wellbeing. She edited participants' contributions to the collected volume, drafted an introduction, and planned a public symposium for the fall of 2022. She contributed an entry entitled "Empathy" to Keywords for Health Humanities (NYU Press, forthcoming 2023) and drafted an essay entitled “Empathy, Shame, and Comedic Truth-Telling in Medical Education” for a special issue of the journal Literature and Medicine (forthcoming 2024). In addition, her monograph Philosophical Siblings: Varieties of Playful Experience in Alice, William, and Henry James was published by University of Pennsylvania Press in February 2022.