Writing Illness Workshop

Women’s Experiences in the 19th-Century Sickroom

Hosted by Distinguished Professor Emerita Alice Kuzniar, this workshop brought together historians of medicine and literary scholars to investigate how self-care and nursing of sick family and friends influenced Germany’s 19th-century women writers, in particular  Annette von  Droste-Hülshoff

This workshop took place on Wednesday, October 4, 2023.

Stamp with Annette von Droste-Huelshoff


Christiane Arndt (Queen's University), Marion Baschin (Bosch Institute for the History of Medicine), Martha Helfer (Rutgers University), Vanessa Höving (FernUniversität in Hagen), and Thomas Wortmann (Universität Mannheim).

The cross-disciplinary approach of this workshop highlights collaboration in the medical humanities, disability studies, feminist studies, life writing, and 19th-century cultural studies.

This workshop draws on research supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Topics addressed

  • Relation of soma and psyche  
  • Self-care, self-discipline, and self-estrangement  
  • Quotidian dimensions of myopia, fever, exhaustion, and headaches   
  • Dietetics  
  • Physical process of writing  
  • Atmospheric impacts on health
  • Posture and Walking   
  • Homeopathy (since Droste-Hülshoff was an avid proponent)  
  • How medical texts generate and categorize knowledge and writing about the body  
  • Mutability and suffering in nature  
  • Poetics of Micro-perceptions   
  • Grief and Death  
  • Vaccine debates


0:00:00 - Welcome

0:09:18 - Marion Baschin, Institute for the History of Medicine, Robert Bosch Foundation, “I am under a great strain...”: Droste-Hülshoff, Homeopathy and Care

0:53:35 - Vanessa Höving, FernUniversität in Hagen, Spheres of Life: Illness, Death, and Survival in Droste-Hülshoff’s early prose

1:50:02 - Alice Kuzniar, University of Waterloo, From Illness to a Poetics of Somatic Micro-Perception

2:43:51 - Thomas Wortmann, Universität Mannheim, Sich krank schreiben: Illness and The Act of Writing in Droste-Hülshoff

3:33:15 - Martha Helfer, Rutgers University, Death Writes: Droste-Hülshoff’s Thanatopoetics

4:18:15 - Christiane Arndt, Queen’s University, Narratives of and by Women in the 19th –century Vaccine and Anti-vaccine Discourses

5:12:25 - Final Discussion

5:35:56 - Closing Remarks

Missed the workshop? Watch the recording here!

Remote video URL