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Joanne Phillips

(617) 627-2039
Lincoln Filene
Research/Areas of Interest:

Greek and Latin Languages, Ancient Greek and Roman Medicine, Lucretius


  • PhD, Classical Philology, Harvard University, United States, 1977
  • AM, Classical Philology, Harvard University, USA, 1971
  • AB, Classics, Boston University, United States, 1968


Joanne H. Phillips joined the department in 1977 to bridge the gap between the humanities and the sciences, developing the first course on the history of ancient Greek and Roman medicine to be taught in a Classics department in the United States. The course (Classics 146, The History of Ancient Greek and Roman Medicine), taught annually and designed as a rigorous upper-level elective specifically for pre-medical, pre-dental, and pre-veterinary students, surveys the historical development of ancient Greek and Roman medicine with emphasis on methodology and sources, as well as assesses the influence of ancient medicine on the development of modern Western clinical medicine. Over 2,000 students have taken this course since its inception. In 1990 she introduced an annual research seminar in ancient medicine (Classics 176, Ancient Medicine Seminar: Topics in Ancient Medicine and its Transmission) for students who excelled in Classics 146 and wanted to pursue "capstone" research topics, while also examining significant historical developments and events in Western medicine from antiquity to the twenty-first century with emphasis on issues, discoveries, and controversies that have beset and characterized medical progress. Since the seminar's founding, 232 undergraduates have participated in the seminar and presented public lectures on their research in an annual Undergraduate Medical History Lecture Series. The seminar, emphasizing not only the mastery of research methodologies, but also presentational skills, became the model for the creation in 1999 of the annual interdisciplinary Tufts University Research Symposium in which students from all disciplines at Tufts come together to present publicly an overview of their research in the humanities and sciences. In 2014 the pedagogical success and relevance of both lecture course and seminar for the undergraduate science student was recognized internationally at a conference on Medical History in Practice in Uppsala, Sweden (J. H. Phillips, "Classics and the Science Undergraduate Major" Revisited: Three Decades of a Successful and Relevant Pedagogical Approach," Classical Outlook 90.4 (2015) 121-126).

In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s there was a concerted effort in Europe by a dedicated community of classical scholars and medical historians to establish the modern textual foundations for one of the most hitherto neglected areas in the Classics—namely, ancient medicine as evinced by the Greek and Latin medical texts. It was a period of research and scholarship that focused on the editing, translation and elucidation of Greek and Latin medical texts, as well as the sharing of the evolving knowledge by the establishment of periodic international colloquia and symposia. Phillips, the first woman at Tufts to secure a Mellon Fellowship (1982) and the second woman to receive tenure in the department (1983), presented invited papers at colloquia on ancient medicine throughout Europe, as well as serving as chair and commentator of select sessions. In 1987 she was the United States representative for the planning of the 1989 and 1992 international colloquia «Textes médicaux latins antiques» under the sponsorship of the Centre Jean Palerne, Université de Saint-Étienne, France. At this time she also assumed the responsibility, as the American Correspondent to the Centre Jean Palerne (1987-1992), for the writing of an annual report on American research activity for Informations, the then leading and sole international newsletter devoted to the history of ancient Greek and Roman medicine.

Phillips' publications are diverse in subject including such topics as early Greek medicine in the poetry of Solon, the importance of astronomy for the Hippocratic physician, the emergence of the Greek medical profession in the Roman Republic, and the medical textual sources of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura. From the mid-late 1980s Phillips' research and publication has and continues to focus on the Liber M