Approaching Medieval Disfigurement: a Medical Problem?
Dr Patricia Skinner (University of Winchester)
History of Pre-Modern Medicine Seminar
Tuesday 17th February
Wellcome Library, 183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE.
Doors open at 6pm and we'll start the seminar at 6.15pm.
This paper reviews the results of the Wellcome Trust-funded project 'Losing Face? Living with Disfigurement in the Early Middle Ages'. After examining the types of evidence for disfigured people in Europe from c.800-1100CE, it then explores why disfigurement has been a relatively neglected subject for historical enquiry. I will argue that it has fallen into a gap between histories of medicine and disability. For most medieval victims of disfigurement, there was apparently little hope of medical or surgical intervention, meaning that medical historians have focused largely on surgical texts emerging in the early modern period. Studies of disability in the medieval period, on the other hand, focus on sensory or motor impairments, which are much better documented - thus if disfigurement is picked up at all, it is tangential to the concerns both of medieval authors and modern commentators. The social disability inherent in a damaged face is hardly considered. Drawing on research undertaken in the past 3 years, I will suggest that societal attitudes towards disfigured people have remained largely static, and that the ongoing use of deliberate disfigurement as a sign of moral lack (in modern communities and media representations) has very old roots.
More info: http://blog.wellcomelibrary.org/2015/02/approaching-medieval-disfigurement-a-medical-problem/ and on the other seminars in the series: http://blog.wellcomelibrary.org/2015/01/pre-modern-medicine-seminars-spring-2015-programme/