Call for papers
50th International Congress on Medieval Studies
Session Sponsored by The Rossell Hope Robbins Library, University of Rochester
Deadline: September 15, 2014
Recent trends in the medical field have questioned purely physiological definitions of health and have turned towards more holistic notions of health and well-being. The growing field of medical humanities operates on the premise that medicine cannot be separated from its surrounding environment. Ideas of health are always in dialogue with a range of other factors including social influences, cultural attitudes, and individual human experience. Thus, medical humanities offers opportunities to reevaluate definitions of health in the medieval period, where individual well-being was often linked to cultural and religious norms. Medieval medical texts address pragmatic concerns like diagnoses, treatments, cures, and systems attempting to classify and explain the human body and health, but the influence of non-medical spheres on medieval medicine should not be underestimated. Medical handbooks not only reveal the methodology of medical practice, but also illustrate ways in which the discourse of medicine was inscribed within a larger cultural context, influenced by areas like religion, natural philosophy, and psychology, among other fields. Literature and art of the medieval period reveal sensitivity to the well-being of the human body and mind, using imaginative forms and metaphors to classify and communicate both the physical and mental states of individuals. Religious interpretation colors attitudes toward the human body and prescribes certain standards of both physiological and spiritual well-being, based on notions of sin, confession, judgment, and salvation. Writers in late medieval England, in particular, were deeply concerned with questions of individual and communal health. England's growing commercial influence as a market for medical expertise and pharmaceuticals owed a great deal to outbreaks of the plague in London, sparking the publication of medical treatises by writers like Gilbertus Anglicus and John Mirfield.
The session will promote interdisciplinary approaches to medieval studies and explore the possibilities that the medical humanities can offer to the field. Possible topics for the proposed session may include but are not limited to: the history of medicine in medieval studies; experiences and perceptions of health and illness as represented in medieval literature and art; metaphors of physicality, mentality, health, and disease; social attitudes and stigma toward disease and disability; the narration of illness and suffering; religious or theological interpretations of illness; the significance of historical, social, and cultural events on medieval medical practice; the importance of gender in medieval medicine; and the doctor-patient relationship.