Toronto’s Stories of Health and Illness

1. Overview
2. Learning Objectives
3. Texts



In this advanced seminar we will encounter stories of health, illness, and disability that are in some way tied to Canada, the city of Toronto especially. How does the Canadian healthcare setting impact, or become implicated in, the telling of illness narratives? Whose stories of health and illness are written and read—and what narratives are celebrated, muted, uncared for, or resisted? What might it mean to live with illness in what has become known as the world’s most multicultural city?

To begin our work, we will ground our knowledge in health-related storytelling through regular in-class “narrative medicine” exercises. Then, through a range of critical and creative readings, we will consider the special affordances of digital texts and methods (including podcasts, blogposts, and artworks) for communicating stories of health and illness. We will develop our knowledge of major theorizations of illness storytelling, including narrative typologies like “restitution”, “chaos,” and “quest,” by engaging with critical and creative illness stories inspired by our city: be it by artist or author origin, setting, or healthcare context (fictional or otherwise). We will also explore the relationship between ethical praxis in health research and storytelling, particularly when stories of health and illness are made and shared in digital spaces.

This intensive seminar expects students to contribute meaningfully and regularly to in-class discussion; it also includes a significant digital element and will make use of the UTSC Library’s MakerSpace. For the final project, students will have the chance to devise a creative component (e.g. new digital narrative, podcast, or artwork) that critically engages, in a relevant and compelling way, the underpinning concerns of this course.

Prerequisites: HLTB50 (Introduction to Health Humanities) and 3 C-level credits.

Learning Objectives

  • To introduce you to advanced theorizations of illness writing and related narrative typologies, focusing on authors and literary texts with close ties to Toronto;
  • To improve your understanding of how the creative imagination contributes to experiences of health and illness, especially in the Canadian context, through the identification of pertinent patterns in language, themes, genre, and aesthetic form;
  • To develop skills in narrative competence and health-related digital storytelling through creative, analytical reading and writing assignments (blogging, podcasts);
  • To enhance your abilities for reading analytically, speaking persuasively, writing compellingly in scholarly, public-facing, and reflective forms, as well as practicing the constructive critique of work done by your peers;
  • To provide the intellectual framework for a substantial research or research-creation project that contributes to our understanding of illness narratives.


1) Required (available at UTSC Bookstore/Library course reserves)

2) Recommended (available at UTSC Bookstore/Library course reserves)