Message from the Director

Nathan Carlin
At the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics, we pursue teaching and scholarship that examines the context and experience of medicine and healthcare, broadly conceived, exploring questions relating to ethics, illness, well-being, and more. What distinguishes us as a center is that we conceive of ethics as a part of the humanities; therefore, the humanities play a central role in what we do. In contrast, most other such centers privilege ethics. While we are not primarily an arts or creative writing shop, these activities are very important to us and feature strongly in our programming.

Also, as a center, we share a commitment to caring for persons as individuals, whether patients, students, or healthcare providers, believing that every person’s story matters. We are especially interested in fostering diverse voices in this regard.

In terms of my own story, I grew up in Portersville, Pennsylvania, about 40 minutes north of Pittsburgh, as the son of a steelworker. During college, in between semesters—summers and winters—I worked in the mill with my father. He wanted me to know what it was like to work in the world without a college education. He worked long hours for modest pay in dangerous and dirty conditions, essentially trading life expectancy for a paycheck, because his body absorbed a considerable amount of nickel and cadmium during his 30-year tenure in the mill.

“So,” my father said to me, “it’s either the mill or college—you pick.” I chose education. And I pursued it with the ethic of a blue-collar worker because I knew there was no safety net.

For graduate school, I had a key choice at a critical juncture. I was accepted at both Princeton Theological Seminary and Rice University, and I chose Rice so that I could work with Dr. Thomas Cole, founding Director of the McGovern Center. That proved to be a life-defining decision. Over the years, Dr. Cole mentored me into the field of medical humanities. We coauthored (with Ronald Carson) the first textbook of the field, offering a definition of medical humanities that is widely accepted, and we coedited (with Olivia Banner) a book on teaching in the field.

I’m grateful for your interest in the McGovern Center. Whatever it is that brings you to this webpage, I hope we can help you.

Kind regards,

The Reverend Dr. Nathan Carlin
Director of the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics
Samuel Karff Chair