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Bank of America Honors Term Professor / Director of Graduate Admissions

2001, PhD English, The Johns Hopkins University

1995, MA English, The Johns Hopkins University

1985, BA English, Amherst College


Jane F. Thrailkill teaches American literature and health humanities in the Department of English and Comparative Literature. Her new book is Philosophical Siblings: Varieties of Playful Experience in Alice, Henry, and William James (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021) click here to read the introduction and here to see the table of contents. Whereas today neuroscientists turn to the lab and use MRIs to light up how minds work, the Jameses were fascinated by the play of consciousness “in the wild” of social relationships fraught with intensities of belief and desire. The siblings used different genres — the personal diary (Alice), the ghost story (Henry), and the psychology lecture (William) — to illuminate how we make sense of the world and know the minds of people in it. The Jameses’ models for discovery were philosophical toys that tinker with perception: the magic lantern, the duck/rabbit illusion, the stereoscope, the thaumatrope (or wonder-turner), a spinning top. With childlike humor, the siblings’ intellectual playfulness is both message and medium, manifested in an expressive style that exploits incongruity, delights in absurdities, and sometimes, teasingly, inflicts the sting of critique.

Her first book, Affecting Fictions: Mind, Body, and Emotion in American Literary Realism (Harvard UP, 2007), examines the influence of pragmatist philosophy and modern neurology on the nineteenth-century American novel. Prof. Thrailkill’s articles on the intersections of science, philosophy, medicine, and literature have appeared in Neurology and Modernity, English Literary History, The Henry James Review, Journal of Narrative Theory, American Literature, ALH, and Poetics Today. In the fall of 2017 she gave a lecture tour in Japan, presenting her recent work on neuroscience, medicine, and American literary study at Kagoshima (American Literature Society of Japan), Kobe (Kobe City University of Foreign Studies), Kyoto (Kyoto University and Ritsumeikan University), and Tokyo (Rikkyo University).

Prof. Thrailkill is passionate about interdisciplinary teaching and research. She teaches in UNC’s School of Medicine, co-directs UNC’s health humanities lab, and mentors students in UNC’s Medicine, Literature, and Culture Program. In the spring of 2018, she and Prof. Michele Rivkin-Fish teamed up to offer a course called “Healing in Ethnography & Literature” (ENGL 264/ANTH 272), thanks to a Dean’s Award for Interdisciplinary Pedagogy. In 2016 Prof. Thrailkill partnered with colleagues in English and Occupational Therapy to conduct a Falls Narrative Study, to better understand how narrating a fall experience helps bolster resilience in older adults. She is proud to have mentored terrific graduate students at UNC, who now have faculty positions at Chulalongkorn University (Thailand), Florida International University, Oxford University (UK), North Carolina School of Science and Math, Saint Mary’s University, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, Virginia Tech, University of Connecticut (Storrs), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and University of Portland.

To read more, visit my website


Teaching Awards

  • North Carolina Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching, UNC-CH, 2017
  • Bank of America Honors Distinguished Term Associate Professorship, 2017-2021
  • Manekin Family Award for Teaching Excellence in Honors Carolina, 2016
  • Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Associate Professorship, 2012-2017
  • Mentoring Award, Association of Graduate Students in English, 2001, 2013, 2015
  • Frank Porter Graham Honor Society faculty honoree, 2015
  • Chapman Family Teaching Award, 2013
  • Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, UNC-CH, 2008
  • Award for Distinction in Teaching, granted by The Derek Bok Center and the Dean for Undergraduate Education, Harvard University, 1999


Podcasts and Lectures:

“Empathetics, Inc: Comedy and the Instrumentalization of Feeling in U.S. Medical Education,” Duke University Health Humanities Lab lecture. Released October 2016.

“Health Humanities at UNC,” Institute for the Arts and Humanities podcast. Released June 2016.

“The Future of Graduate Studies in the University,” Ethos Review podcast. Released April 2014.

Articles about Prof. Thrailkill’s health humanities work:

  • “For a Med Student, a Necessary Catharsis”: profile Carolina Alumni Review (Sept./Oct. 2017): author Eric Johnson
  • “Creating a Buzz about Health Humanities,” article Carolina Arts and Sciences Magazine (spring 2017): author Michele Lynn
  • “A Passion for Helping Students Teach Across Interdisciplinary Boundaries,” interview College of Arts and Sciences (2 May 2017)
  • “A HHIVE for Health Humanities,” article Endeavors: Research and Creative Activity at UNC-Chapel Hill (February 2017): author Alyssa LaFaro

Courses Taught:

  • (ENGL 71H) Doctors and Patients
  • (ENGL 264)) Healing in Ethnography and Literature (crosslisted with ANTH 272)
  • (ENGL 268) Literature, Medicine, and Culture
  • (ENGL 343) Imagining America, Beginnings to 1865
  • (ENGL 344) American Literature after the Civil War
  • (ENGL 444) American Literature from Page to Screen
  • (ENGL 347) The American Novel
  • (ENGL 611) Narrative & Illness
  • (ENGL 695) Intensive Research Methods in Health Humanities
  • (ENGL 844) Graduate Seminar in American Literature

Curriculum Vitae / Resume