Emory Report
May 29, 2007
Volume 59, Number 31

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May 29, 2007
Brown honored for interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship

by beverly clark

As a medical anthropologist, Peter J. Brown’s work often is a matter of connecting the dots between health, culture and society in a quest to better understand the causes of the immense disparities in health around the globe.

Making connections in many ways defines Brown, whether it’s connecting faculty members across disparate disciplines, or helping students make a connection with complex concepts in global health. For nearly 30 years, Brown has cultivated an environment for interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship as a professor of anthropology and director of Emory’s Center for Health, Culture and Society.

Brown’s work was recognized during Emory’s 162nd Commencement when he received the University Scholar/Teacher Award. The recipient is chosen by Emory faculty on behalf of the United Methodist Church Board of Higher Education and Ministry. The award is presented to a member of the Emory faculty who has excelled as a classroom teacher, shown extraordinary concern for students, and made significant contributions to the scholarly life of the University.

“I am very grateful for the recognition,” said Brown, who holds a joint appointment in the College and the Rollins School of Public Health. “Frankly, there are better scholars and teachers around here. Emory really has an amazing faculty, so it’s quite humbling to be recognized among them.”

One of the first three faculty members hired in the anthropology department back in 1978, Brown later served as chair and observed that “early on, it was really clear things were happening here,” he said.

During four stints as chair, Brown helped the department flourish with signature faculty recruitments, innovative curricula and scholarship, and growth of the major and minor. The development and growth of the School of Public Health only added to Brown’s opportunities to foster more collaborations among faculty from the arts and sciences, medicine and public health. As director of the CHCS, Brown has built a community of scholars across the University and among various institutions, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A dedicated teacher, Brown has developed and taught nearly 30 different courses, and was the recipient of the Emory Williams Teaching Award 20 years ago. Most recently, he journeyed to South Africa to arrange for a capstone course in the minor for Global Health, Culture and Society that required students to study the political and social context of AIDS and its impact on South Africa as they worked with agencies caring for infected populations.

“Global health is very compelling subject matter. You can’t just teach students to only analyze and deconstruct the complexity of the problems. You also have to talk about what works and give them examples of heroes and role models in the field so that you leave them empowered,” Brown said, citing Ghandi, President Jimmy Carter, and Commencement speaker Paul Farmer as examples of individuals who have been forces of change.

In his nearly 30 years at Emory, the University has changed substantially, but one value has remained constant: “There really is an emphasis on teaching here that is not necessarily a transferable value to other institutions. In academia, the coin of the realm is in publications. The value and work of teaching can be invisible,” he said. “Throughout all the changes the University has gone through, Emory continues to emphasize teaching. You hear faculty talking about the craft in ways you won’t find elsewhere.”

In addition to his dedication to teaching and service, Brown has made significant contributions to the scholarship of medical anthropology. His research into parasitic diseases, obesity, and gender and health has been supported by the CDC, the National Institute of Aging, National Institutes of Health and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Brown has served as editor and associate editor of Medical Anthropology, the flagship journal of his field, and is a prolific author of numerous papers and co-editor of five books. He is past president of the general anthropology division of the American Anthropological Association. He has also been deeply involved in developing the global health aspect of Emory strategic plan.

Ultimately as a teacher, Brown hopes to instill in students an understanding of the privilege they live in, and a broader concept of how health is determined around the globe. “I want students to realize that this is a very ancient and humane act to be a healer.”