Colby faculty in the Public Humanistic Inquiry Lab

Principal Investigator of the PHIL, Tanya Sheehan is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Art. Across her career, she has worked at the intersection of American art history and medical humanities. This work includes her first book, Doctored: The Medicine of Photography in Nineteenth-Century America (2011), a book in progress on medicine and modernist art by African Americans, and an edited volume on modernism and art therapy. She also authored Study in Black and White: Photography, Race, Humor (2018) and edited four books on photography and its histories. Her writing on the COVID-19 pandemic has appeared in the Portland Press Herald and the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art Journal, where she has served as executive editor since 2015.

Associate Principal Investigator of the PHIL, Jay Sibara is Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. His work brings together the fields of American literature, critical race and critical disability studies, and the environmental humanities. His current book project examines representations of illness, disability, and medicine in African American and Asian American literatures from the late nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth, demonstrating how these works challenge then-dominant public health and scientific racist theories.

Dean Allbritton is Associate Professor of Spanish and incoming Director of the Center for the Arts and Humanities. He is writing a cultural history of the early years of HIV/AIDS in Spain through visual culture and ephemera of the time. Broadly, he is interested in representations and experiences of illness and health in contemporary Spanish culture as political metaphors of national wellbeing. He explores how these are not localized issues or concepts but transnational frames of understanding health and sickness. 

AB Brown is Assistant Professor of Theater and Dance. They are a transdisciplinary performance artist, writer, and performance studies scholar. Focusing on the African diaspora, their research-based practice looks at how transness, disability, and colonialism orient us to place and time and how embodied and material engagements might rearrange these modes of being and belonging. They are also interested in the systemic production of trans death, which develops alongside racial/racist, class, gender, and citizenship status, as well as intersections between disability, corporeality, and statehood.

Gail Carlson is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Director of the Buck Lab for Climate and Environment. Much of her work involves research and civic engagement focused on local food security and environmental policy-making in Maine. She is interested in the role that race plays in disproportionate environmental exposures and health impacts. Gail chairs the Science Advisory Council of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, a Portland, Maine-based nonprofit organization committed to improving public health and the environment, and incentivizing the use of safer chemicals in a sustainable economy.  She also regularly advocates as a science expert in the Maine Legislature on issues related to environmental health. 

Nadia El-Shaarawi is Assistant Professor of Global Studies. She is a cultural and medical anthropologist whose research focuses on displacement, humanitarianism, and health, especially in the Middle East and North Africa and Europe. In her courses on global health, students learn about racialized health disparities, how racism structures representations of epidemics and pandemics, racial disparities in health care access on a local and global scale, legacies of colonization on global health, and the consequences of racist medical experimentation and health policy. 

Inga Kim Diederich is Assistant Professor of History. She works in the areas of Korean studies, history of medicine, and race and nationalism studies. Her current scholarship focuses on the historical development of modern Korean ethnonationalism and its medico-scientific dimensions. On the subject of medicine and race, she has researched the role of blood in the formation of bionational identity in Cold War South Korea, and has taught courses on medicine and the racialized management of Asian bodies in and beyond East Asia. 

Sarah Emily Duff is Assistant Professor of African and World History. Her research focuses on the intersections of age, race, and gender in the British Empire and modern South Africa and Africa. Her first monograph, Changing Childhoods in the Cape Colony (2015), considers the co-construction of categories of race and childhood in the nineteenth century. Her current research on sex education in twentieth-century South Africa argues that the control of youth sexuality was at the core of a range of projects to imagine South African futures. Her future scholarly interests focus on menopause and British imperialism.

Flavien Falantin is Visiting Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies. His current book project investigates the dangerous impact of novels, as well as diseases that affect the reader, such as Bovarysm, mimetic desire, and Fanonian lactification. The concept of “narrative contamination” allows him to shed new light on the ways in which novelistic writings negotiate their meaning and social function in active dialogue with medicine, critical race studies, and intersectional and intermedial studies. 

Britt Halvorson is Associate Professor of Anthropology. Her research explores the transnational aid partnerships that have arisen in Christian communities over the past forty years to address medical resource inequalities. Her first book, Conversionary Sites: Transforming Medical Aid and Global Christianity from Madagascar to Minnesota (2018), examines Christian medical aid programs as contested spaces in which geographically dispersed Christian communities, particularly in southern Africa (Madagascar) and the US, negotiate inequalities based in their histories of colonial interaction. Her work has addressed how Christian humanitarian care ambivalently draws on and racializes economic inequalities linked to embodied medical risk, accountability, and biomedical treatment.

Christel Kesler is Associate Professor of Sociology. Her research and teaching focus on cross-national comparisons of social and economic inequalities in North American and Western European countries. She is particularly interested in how institutions of the welfare state, including healthcare systems, shape racial and ethnic inequalities, and also how race and ethnicity shape redistributive social policy and welfare state development.

Kassandra Miller is Assistant Professor of Classics. Her research focuses on the medical theories and practices of ancient Greece and Rome. She is particularly interested in trying to reconstruct the experiences of marginalized healers and patients, and in exploring how ancient medical ideas have influenced modern theories and rhetoric surrounding race and medicine. 

Tiffany Creegan Miller is Assistant Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies. As a speaker of Kaqchikel (one of 22 Maya languages still spoken in Guatemala), she has been a volunteer interpreter/translator since 2009 for Wuqu’ Kawoq: Maya Health Alliance, a Guatemala-based NGO that provides health care to underserved Maya communities. She is collaborating with Wuqu’ Kawoq on an online medical dictionary with Kaqchikel-Spanish-English terms. Given her experiences with global health in Indigenous Guatemala, she is a regular contributor for Synapsis, an online medical humanities journal organized by Columbia University. Before coming to Colby, she taught medical Spanish at Clemson University and the University of Kansas.

Winifred Tate is Associate Professor of Anthropology. She is currently conducting research on the chemical biographies of women who use drugs, and is interested in the relationship between drug policy formation in Maine and whiteness. Her work as a political anthropologist has examined struggles for democracy and political change in the wake of the more than a century of prohibitionist drug policy regimes in the Americas. She is the author of two books about political violence, drug policy and social movements: Counting the Dead: The Culture and Politics of Human Rights Activism in Colombia (2019) and Drugs, Thugs and Diplomats: US Policymaking in Colombia (2015). Since 2019, she has been conducting research in Maine as part of her work with the Maine Drug Policy Lab at Colby College.