CSP 50: Health and Humanity


A Special CSP Opportunity for Spring 2020


As part of Oxy’s Core curriculum, students are expected to take a Cultural Studies Program (CSP) course in both the fall and spring semesters of their first-year.  One of your options is to take a special 8-unit interdisciplinary course taught by multiple faculty. In the Spring Semester 2020, one of these courses will be Health and Humanity. The course meets the spring semester first-year writing requirement, and also the pre-1800 and Global Connections Core requirements.

Course Description

This interdisciplinary course will bring together the tools of History, Economics, and Philosophy to study various elements of health and medicine. Students will learn how notions of health and well-being and institutions of medicine are culturally and historically bound, how they participate in a broad network of economic priorities and transactions, and how they are philosophically grounded.

In the course, students will consider the following questions:

  • orange asclepiusHow have Western societies defined well-being and health from antiquity to the present?
  • What have people understood to be the value of health and of life?  And how have they felt about and prepared for death?
  • What were the origins of the field of medicine?  In the infancy of the field, how did medical theorists and physicians construct medical knowledge and structure medical institutions?
  • How do we understand the structure of markets for health insurance and health care?
  • How do policy analysts quantify and measure health and the value of life?
  • How ought we measure health and the value of life?
  • How do we justly distribute both health care itself and the scarce resources of the healthcare system (such as, organs)?
  • How can we use the tools of History, Philosophy, and Economics to approach tough issues related to health and medicine (such as, issues related to sexuality and death)?

The course provides an excellent foundation for students interested in careers in health and medicine, but will be interesting to students with a wide range of interests.

Health & Humanity Faculty

Kristi Upson-SaiaProf. Upson-Saia is an Historian of the ancient Mediterranean. She will introduce students to the origins and development of the field of medicine in the Greco-Roman world (from the 5th c. BCE-3rd c. CE).  She will introduce students to the ways in which the nascent field of medicine related to and stacked up against other “healing” domains of society early in the history of science.  She will also help students see how the features of Greco-Roman medicine persists in contemporary US practices. 


Brandon LehrProf. Lehr is an applied microeconomic theorist whose research areas include optimal public policy, social insurance, and behavioral economics. He will introduce students to both the economic theories and the empirical methods for understanding and evaluating health care. Students will also see how the availability of big data is transforming the social sciences and allowing economists to answer questions that can inform public policy and lead to improved health outcomes.


Clair MorrisseyProf. Morrissey’s area of specialization is practical moral philosophy, especially bioethics. She is interested in how philosophers understand ‘method’ in the context of bioethics, the ethics of inquiry and research, and notions of ‘dignity’ and ‘self-respect’ in practical moral decision-making. She will draw on her experience as a Trainee at the interdisciplinary Center for Genomics and Society at the UNC School of Medicine to help unify and reflect on the different disciplinary perspectives and modes of engaging with the study of health offered by this curriculum.

Success of students who have taken the course in the past

The students who enrolled in this course in Spring 2013 and Fall 2015 have used the skills they began developing in Health & Humanity to pursue a wide variety of activities on and off campus and have achieved extraordinary success. Some have interned or volunteered at the City of Hope cancer research hospital, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and hospice facilities. Others have been awarded prestigious honors, such as a Fletcher Science Scholar to study neural stem cells, a Stauffer Research Fellowship, and a Luce China Environment Grant. Many of our students have been accepted into Oxy’s competitive summer research program. After Oxy, many have been accepted to prestigious medical schools and graduate programs, including nursing, physician assistant, and public health programs.


To signal your interest in the course, students should sign up using the link below. Please note that this course is capped at 48 students. The first 48 students who fill out the interest form will be able to pre-register for the course; sign-ups thereafter will be placed on the waitlist. In past years, the course has enrolled quickly, so we encourage you to sign up early.