Lan Li Headshot

Lan Li, PHD

Assistant Professor; Co-Director of Online Program, HOM


Institute of the History of Medicine
The Johns Hopkins University
1900 East Monument Street
Baltimore, MD 21205

Research Interests

History of East Asian medicine; global Chinese medicine; STS; graphic genre; medical metaphors; anatomical representation; histories of neuroscience; postcolonial science studies; race and racism in health care access


I am a historian of the body, focusing on medicine and health in global East Asia. My research engages with topics related to anatomical representation, theory and practice in Asian medicine, histories of acupuncture-moxabustion in neuroscience, and the relationship between medical education and race and racism in health care access. I received my Ph.D. in History, Anthropology, and Science Technology and Society Studies from MIT in 2016 and served as a Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience at Columbia University before joining the medical humanities program and department of history faculty at Rice University.

My first book manuscript, Body Maps: Improvising Meridians and Nerves in Global Chinese Medicine (under review at Johns Hopkins University Press), explores a visual history of mapping meridians onto peripheral nerves from the early modern period to the twentieth century. It offers a long global history of medicine through hand-drawn body maps and spans from the tenth to the twentieth centuries to re-think cultures of objectivity beyond normative geographies of science and medicine. The book contributes to ongoing debates between practitioners and historians on the metaphorical and imaginary components of Chinese medicine by drawing on insights from science studies, critical cartography, and medical anthropology. My second project centers on a transnational history of numbness, which situates numbness, or ma 麻, in categories of flavor and food before tracking its transformation into a pathological side effect.

In my role as Associate Director of Research at The Center for Black Brown Queer Studies, I direct the Medicine Race Democracy Lab, which trains students in exploring community health centers beyond large hospital systems and is home to the podcast series metastasis and Point Break. I am the co-founder and co-host of the exhibition Metaphors of the Mind with Dr. Alex Wragge Morley, I serve as the editor of eikon in, and I am the East Asian book reviews editor for Asian Medicine. My film and media work has led to collaborations with medical practitioners in Shanghai, Mumbai, São Paulo, New York, Boston, and Houston.

I teach courses related to the history of drugs, history of sensation, public health in East Asia, and graduate methods seminars. Students interested in histories of Asian medicine are welcome to contact me regarding undergraduate and graduate training.

CV: Lan_Li_CV 



Selected Articles

Li, L. “Numbing Aesthetics: Taste and Tempers of Peppercorn / Mountain Pepper / Sanshō.” Gastronomica. 20.4: 64-74.

Li, L. “Invisible Bodies: Lu Gwei-djen & the Specter of Translation.” Asian Medicine 13 (1–2): 33-68.

Li, L. “The Edge of Expertise: Representing Barefoot Doctors in Cultural Revolution China.” Endeavour 39, no. 3–4 (September 2015): 160–67.


Selected Chapters

Li, L. “Emotional Spleens: Death by Overthinking in Classical Chinese Texts.” In The Routledge History of Emotions in the Modern World. Katie Barclay and Peter Stearns (eds).

Li, L. “Escaping Immortality: Science, Civilization, and Lu Gwei-djen (1904-1991).” In (In)visible Labour: Knowledge Production in Twentieth Century Science. Jenny Bangham, Xan Chacko, Judith Kaplan (eds). (forthcoming)

Li, L. “Chinese Medical Illustrations and Communist Materialism (1950-1966).” In Making Sense of Medicine: Materiality and the Reproduction of Medical Knowledge. John Nott and Anna Harris (eds). (forthcoming)

Li, L. “Sunk from Sight: Mapping the Fluid Body.” In Fluid Matter(s): Flow and Transformation in the History of the Body, edited by Natalie Köhle and Shigehisa Kuriyama. Asian Studies Monograph Series 14. Canberra, ANU Press, 2020.

Li, L. “Medical Poetics: Global Health Humanities on Film and the Case of 心.” In The Routledge Companion to Health Humanities, eds P. Crawford, B. Brown, & A. Charise, 163–72. 2020.

Li, L. “Pinpricks: Needling, Numbness, and Temporalities of Pain.” In Imagining the Brain: Episodes in the History of Brain Research, 1st ed., 243: 205–29. Academic Press, 2018.

Selected Media


Point Break. Creator, Director (2022-)

Bermac Sessions. Creator, Director (2022-)

meta-stasis podcast. Creator, Director (2021-)


re-building: methods in material culture. Editor (2020)

PULSES | PROCESSING. Director (2020-2021)

Metaphors of the Mind. Co-Creator, Executive Producer (2017-2021)


Acupuntura (2021) Associação de Terapias Tradicionais: Acupuntura, São Paulo. Director.

Fear/Trauma. (2020) Director, Cinematographer.

Weaving Knowledge: Banraijaisook. (2019) Director, Cinematographer.

Weaving Knowledge: Thinking, Feeling, and Making. (2019) Director, Cinematographer.

Weaving Knowledge: Looms of Banraijaisook. (2019) Director, Cinematographer.

Inside the MitoLab. (2019) Director, Cinematographer.

Metaphors of the Mind. (2019) Creator, Co-host. Interdisciplinary series on global representations of cognition, emotion, and mental states.

Bird Talk. (2019) Director, Cinematographer.

Thinking Organs. (2018) Director, Cinematographer.

Alchemical Metaphors of Cognition. (2018) Director, Cinematographer.

Sounding Pain in Japanese. (2018) Director, Cinematographer.

Mind Reading. (2018) Director, Cinematographer.

States of Mind. (2018) Director, Cinematographer.

Cell Signals. (2018) Director, Cinematographer.

Merkel Cells Activate Sensory Neural Pathways through Adrenergic Synapses. (2018) Neuron. Director, Cinematographer.

Meditation and Healing at the Hospital and at Soji Zen Center. (2018) Director, Cinematographer. The Jivaka Project: Buddhist Health and Healing.

Annual Medicine Buddha Ceremony at Minh Dang Quang. (2018) Director, Cinematographer. The Jivaka Project: Buddhist Health and Healing.

Songkran Festival at Wat Mongkoltepmunee. (2018) Director, Cinematographer. The Jivaka Project: Buddhist Health and Healing.

Traditional Medicine and Spiritual Development at Won Institute. (2018) Director, Cinematographer. The Jivaka Project: Buddhist Health and Healing.

Healing Community Trauma at Seabrook Temple. (2018) Director, Cinematographer. The Jivaka Project: Buddhist Health and Healing.

Buddhist Healthcare in Philadelphia. (2018) Director, Cinematographer. The Jivaka Project: Buddhist Health and Healing.

Urban Temples. (2018) Director, Editor. Short film of urban temples in Philadelphia.

Making and Knowing. (2017) Assistant Director, Editor.  A tour of the Making and Knowing Lab with Professor Pamela Smith at Columbia University.

Weaving (2017) Assistant Director, Editor. Featuring the intersection of craft and cognition through a workshop-conference on weaving at Columbia University, titled, “Weaving: Cognition, Technology, and Culture.”

Global Histories of Music Theory (2017) Director, Editor, Producer. Exploring the material and methodological possibilities of examining music practice and theory.

Politically, Correct: Determining Scientific Truth and Legitimacy (2017), Director, Editor, Producer. Panel trailer on histories of knowledge production in India, Tibet, Japan, and China for the International Congress on Traditional Asian Medicine.

On Aging: Liao Jialun b. 1928 (2017) Director, Editor. Beijing, China.

The Lung, The Elixir, and the Lancet: The Personal Paradox of Lu Gwei-djen (2013), Director, Editor, Writer. Screened at the Digital Short Films in the History of Medicine, American Association for the History of Medicine 87th Annual Meeting, University of Chicago Medicine. May 2014.

Osher (2013), Director, Videographer, Editor, Writer. Produced with Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

The Vital Other: Integrative Medicine and India (2012), Director, Videographer, Editor, Writer.  Produced with the International Association for the Study of Traditional Asian Medicine, India.  Official selection for the Salem Film Festival Mass Reality Check.

Rocks, Bands, Logic (2012), Director, Videographer, Editor, Writer.  Winner of the Comparative Media Studies, Media Spectacle Graduate Documentary Award, 2012.

Living Beyond Landscapes (2010), Director, Videographer, Editor. Grand Prize Winner, ExchangesConnect, United States State Department.


Research Lab

Medicine, Race, Democracy Lab. Director



ME.150.730: Methods in the History of Medicine

AS.001.190: FYS: Poisons! A History