Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 451-454

First online:

Mad Scientists, Narrative, and Social Power: A Collaborative Learning Activity

  • Sarah L. BerryAffiliated withDepartment of English and Comparative Literature, Hobart and William Smith Colleges Email author 
  • , Anthony CerulliAffiliated withDepartment of Religious Studies and Asian Studies, Hobart and William Smith CollegesInstitut d’Études Avancées de Paris

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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories “The Birthmark” (1843) and “Rappaccini’s Daughter” (1844) encourage critical thinking about science and scientific research as forms of social power. In this collaborative activity, students work in small groups to discuss the ways in which these stories address questions of human experimentation, gender, manipulation of bodies, and the role of narrative in mediating perceptions about bodies. Students collectively adduce textual evidence from the stories to construct claims and present a mini-argument to the class, thereby strengthening their skills in communication and cooperative interpretation of ethical dilemmas. This exercise is adaptable to shorter and longer periods of instruction, and it is ideal for instructors who collaborate across areas of expertise.


Science as power Narrative Human experimentation Body manipulation Gender Fiction Critical thinking Collaborative learning Argumentation Communication