TWU MAIH graduate wins doctoral research award

Against the mainstream methods for interventionist ways of healing, three famous women writers in history used their art to express an alternate vision for health care. Ariel Little, Trinity Western University Masters of Arts in Interdisciplinary Humanities graduate, received a $105,000 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship - Doctoral (CGS-D) award to pursue a doctoral study at UBC on the portrayal of health and well-being in the works of L.M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, and Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Voices for the voiceless

In a time when women’s voices were not well represented in medicine, Ariel Little noticed that three Victorian and Edwardian authors were using their art to express alternative health perspectives.

Little is a Trinity Western University graduate (Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Humanities, 2018) and winner of the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship - Doctoral (CGS-D) award. She begins her doctoral studies at UBC this September. 

The Victorian and Edwardian period was not an egalitarian time in history. Little noted, “There was a rapid rise in a scientific, masculine dominated approach to medicine that favoured aggressive intervention over preventative care.” 

“This cultural shift displaced women from their traditional roles as midwives and healers within the home,” she explained. “Instead, women became consumers of medical products and patients who did not have much of a voice in medicine.” 

The consequences for women were detrimental. “This also had harmful effects for women, and minimized their participation in their own health care,” Little said. “Often, women were subjected to harsh, invasive procedures that [produced] an adverse effect on their health.”

Health and wellness perspectives from Victorian women 

The focus of Little’s doctoral study is on the portrayal of health and well-being in the works of L.M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, and Frances Hodgson Burnett. “The aim of my study is to assess how these authors' presentations of health connect to Victorian and Edwardian health ideologies and, more significantly, how their novels speak to Victorian and Edwardian women's experiences of health care as well as their perspectives on health and wellness,” she shared.

L. M. Montgomery is a Canadian author best known for her 1908 novel, Anne of Green Gables. Louisa  May Alcott wrote Little Women in 1868, and Frances Hodgson Burnett authored The Secret Garden  in 1911.

Montgomery's, Burnett's, and Alcott's work represent the voices of women who were marginalised by mainstream health care, and who began to challenge the dominant thinking. 

Against the pro-intervention medical practices of their day, these women chose to adopt “maintaining a healthy, whole-person lifestyle.”

Canada’s health literacy crisis

Most interestingly, these historical authors show modern audiences a way to teach health literacy creatively. 

“Even prior to COVID-19, Canada was in the middle of a health care as well as a health literacy crisis,” said Little. “We know that we need to find new ways of thinking and communicating about health.”

Good health literacy means being able access, understand, evaluate, communicate and use information related to your health to make the right health decisions, according to ABC Life Literacy Canada.

The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that 60 per cent of Canadian adults and 88 per cent of seniors are not health literate, as cited by ABC Life Literacy Canada. This means that many Canadians have trouble understanding health information and making appropriate heath care decisions. Today, COVID-19 makes this problem even more salient.

How popular books can help teach health knowledge to Canadians

Little’s research gives us hope for finding creative ways to teach health literacy. “The popularity of Montgomery's, Alcott's, and Burnett's writings demonstrates the ability of literature to transmit health knowledge in a way that is both engaging and meaningful,” she said.   

Not only does popular literature provide an attractive way to transmit health knowledge, but it can convey a new and alternative vision for health care as well.

Whole-person care and applications for today’s pandemic environment

Within Montgomery's, Burnett's, and Alcott's work, Little is able to draw out applications for today’s COVID-19 pandemic environment. In particular, modern audiences may learn from these authors a holistic approach to health that includes mental and emotional wellness, as well as preventative lifestyle habits.

“Montgomery's, Burnett's, and Alcott's novels offer an alternative to perspectives that focus exclusively on physical health and after-the-fact intervention.” 

Instead, their novels present a holistic approach to health, which shows physical, mental, and spiritual health to all be vital and interconnected, she said.

“Their powerful portrayals of a preventative, holistic path to wellness advocate for the benefits, even the necessity, of activities such as daily exercise, fulfilling mental employment and time spent in fellowship.” 

In a time of COVID-19 isolation and quarantine, these ideas indeed seem very helpful. 


About Trinity Western University

Founded in 1962, Trinity Western University is Canada’s premier Christian liberal arts university dedicated to equipping students to find and fulfill their purpose in life. It is a fully accredited research institution offering liberal arts and sciences, as well as professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. It has five campuses: Langley, Richmond-Lansdowne, Richmond-Minoru, Ottawa, and Bellingham, WA. TWU emphasizes academic excellence, research, and student engagement in a vibrant faith community devoted to supporting vibrant leaders seeking to have a transformational impact on culture. Learn more at or follow us on Twitter @TrinityWestern, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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