Medical anthropology journal club with Visiting Eddy Professor Ted Green, Spring 2011

Tomorrow we ring in a new academic year of the medical anthropology journal club. New years of any sort are an opportunity to clear the air, so I thought it might be time to address a question that lots of people have asked me since our first meeting in 2007: Why is it called journal club?

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The short answer is that I didn’t make it up.

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Journal clubs are an established institution in many other disciplines, with a history stretching back to the nineteenth century. According to Linzer (1987), the first documented journal club was established in 1875 at McGill University. The phrase “journal club” itself may date to a group of students who organized themselves into a reading group at St. Bartholemew’s Hospital in London during 1835-1854. The first journal club in the United States, according to Linzer, began at Johns Hopkins University in 1889 and soon proliferated into separate departmental journal clubs.

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Today, journal clubs are a standard part of medical education (Alguire 1998), and they have spread to engineering and the natural sciences (Newswander & Borrego 2009). Many leading journals in medicine and the sciences, including Nature and JAMA, publish regular journal club features. There is also a surprisingly large literature about the effectiveness of the journal club format for adult learning and for creating communities of practice (e.g., Akhund & Masood Kadir 2006, Ebbert et al. 2001, Lee et al. 2005).

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This tried-and-true model is what inspired the medical anthropology journal club at UF beginning in Fall 2007. Many cultural anthropologists wrinkle their nose at the name (Really? A club?), but keeping the name acknowledges its roots. At any rate, journal clubs in anthropology may be here to stay: our department now has three of them on the course schedule!

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Don’t worry, though: we won’t elect officers or hold a bake sale.

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