Beyond Better

Beyond Better is an interdisciplinary, multi-media public medical humanities effort that seeks to destabilize ableist narratives in American healthcare through oral history, storytelling, and art.

Afterlives of pandemics, Past & Present

It has been less than a year since a new coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, China. From the World Health Organization to universities in the U.S., the spread of this pandemic has been measured and reported primarily in terms of positive viral and antibody test results, deaths, hospitalizations, and recoveries.

In the midst of this ongoing crisis, few have had the opportunity to adequately reflect on what it means to “recover” from this poorly understood virus. Each day, new stories emerge on social and digital media that point to some of the long-term health implications of a bout with COVID-19. The unique needs, concerns, and experiences of COVID-19 survivors, however, remain poorly understood. The impact of this pandemic beyond the toll it takes on people's bodies is even less known.

What can we learn about health, illness, disability, and society by looking at the current experiences of COVID-19 survivors alongside the past experiences of polio survivors from the mid-twentieth century?

Beyond Better places stories of contemporary experiences into historical perspective through the collection and curation of oral history interviews, archival images, and historical media.


Jessica Martucci and Britt Dahlberg are well-established interviewers, story tellers, and public humanities scholars. This project, launched in July 2020, is part of a longer-term dream the two have shared of bringing the lens of disability to public history around issues of equity, inclusion, and social justice in health and science.

jessica martucci, PhD

I completed my PhD in the History and Sociology of Science, and later earned a Masters degree in Bioethics, at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to launching Beyond Better, I spent three years leading an Oral History Project that documented the experiences of disabled Scientists. I teach classes in disability, health, & gender at the University of Pennsylvania and I am a Research Associate in the Division of Ethics at Columbia University.

britt dahlberg, PhD

I completed my Phd in Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Before BeyondBetter, I co-designed and led the five-year REACH Ambler Project to use ethnography, oral history, and theater to open up spaces for public dialogue about environmental risk and uncertainty in social and historical context. I teach classes in methodology and environmental health at Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania.

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