How Do Collectives Come to Believe Collectively?

Dr. Priscilla Wald discusses our society’s “mythistories” in HI’s Faculty Fellows Seminar on Health, Well-Being, Healing
By Saralyn McKinnon-Crowley

Last week’s Faculty Fellows Seminar was led by our Distinguished Visiting Lecturer Priscilla Wald, R. Florence Brinkley Professor of English at Duke University. The seminar followed Dr. Wald’s Wednesday evening lecture, “Cells, Genes, Stories: HeLa’s Journey from Labs to Literature,” in which she discussed the cultural

Cell Culture of HeLa Cells
Culture of HeLa Cells

narratives around the immortal HeLa cell line developed from the cervical cancer cells of Henrietta Lacks. Dr. Wald sees the narratives about Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cell line—particularly the racist language of contamination used to describe the cells themselves—as what she calls a “mythistory,” a mythic belief or story shared by a collective that produces conventional narratives and sets of belief beneath the level of conscious thought. Dr. Wald came to her current project by way of a central question running through her research: how do collectives come to believe collectively?

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