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January 16, 2007

Conference on Disability in Early Medieval Europe

Okay, so I've been seriously remiss in posting notifications for different conferences.  The blog is just over five months old, and this is certainly one of the kinks I need to work out.  But Penny Richards over at Disability Studies Blog alerts us to a conference the content of which is particularly interesting to me:

Concepts of Health and the Healthy Body

School of English Studies
University of Nottingham
6-7 July 2007
Call for papers

The second conference on Disease, Disability and Medicine in Early Medieval Europe, AD 400-1200 will focus on questions of what constitutes a healthy body in the medieval world, health care, cure and the language of care. The meeting aims to be a forum for scholars working on the topic in a variety of disciplines and regions of Northern Europe, including all aspects of disease, disability and medicine. The conference aims foster interdisciplinary approaches and we invite contributions from archaeology, palaeopathology, history of medicine, as well as history of religion, philosophy, linguistic and historical sciences.

Abstracts should be submitted to Christina Lee (300 words or less) by February 28, 2007.

A few points: first, I am absolutely fascinated by the Middle Ages -- Early, Middle, and Late (I'm particularly interested in the Twelfth Century Renaissance and Eleanor of Aquitaine, but I also find the Plantagenet kings ceaselessly fascinating, and I also have more than a passing interest in the Vikings and William the Conqueror).  I'm something of an amateur medievalist, with strong emphasis on the "amateur" aspect.  I've probably read about sixty books -- both academic and popular history -- on medieval history, but alas, given that I lack primary languages, I remain nothing but a motivated amateur.  (However, I do have to say that having even some basic grasp of social and political conditions at various points in the Middle Ages, as well as a rudimentary comprehension of some elements of a peculiarly medieval world view has proved to be tremendously useful for me in trying to trace both the rise of modernity and the inception of the studia humanitatis).

Second, given my interest in the medical humanities, I am particularly interested in understandings of and cultural responses to health, illness, and disease in the Middle Ages.  One of my favorite classes I took in law school was a course on English Legal History, in part because the final third of the semester was spent studying how the Pestilence forced such dramatic changes in the legal culture.  Anglo-American law looks the way it does today because of the Pestilence.  So the subject of this conference is particularly interesting to me.

Third, and this is a point I have been meaning to blog about for some time, I am finding that more and more of my academic interests are implicating questions of disability and disability studies.  I was thinking about this, and I have read some disability scholars suggest that disability studies is in some sense an all-encompassing field.  One can quibble with this suggestion for a variety of reasons, of course, but the more I think about it, the more I believe that it is probably unwise to pursue inquiry in bioethics and the medical humanities with no understanding of or ability to be conversant with disability studies.  How, after all, could one separate the study of health care from the study of disability? As disability scholars are fond of remarking, everyone is either disabled or a moment away from becoming disabled.

Of course, lots of disciplines and fields of inquiry are worthwhile; I suppose one has to make choices about what fields and models are meaningful enough to one to try to learn something about them.  I suppose I am expressing here a commitment to engaging disability studies and disability scholars in general in context of bioethics and the medical humanities, because I think the cross-talk would be both meaningful and vitally important (anyone who thinks the disability perspective is tangential to bioethics has not spent much time examining the futility controversy).  As such, look for a Disability Studies blogroll coming soon (in addition to the Health Law and Policy blogroll added recently).   


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Hi Daniel--nice to see you write "a commitment to engaging disability studies and disability scholars in general in context of bioethics and the medical humanities, because I think the cross-talk would be both meaningful and vitally important"... because you're on to host the Disability Blog Carnival in February--how does the February 8 edition strike you? If not, I'm offering February 22 to Mark at 19th Floor, but you guys could trade if it's mutually agreeable. Let me know.

Oh, that sounds fabulous! I mean, just going to Nottingham would be fun, but the conference itself sounds interesting. Personally, my interest is not as much in disability studies in that timeframe (although, wow, I'd never really thought about it... I wonder if that's where much of the imagery we have of court jesters come from - the disabled being the ones standing out from society, and thus being ideal to poke at it), but in the confluence of medical knowledge and religious beliefs in the definitions of disease, sickness and health.

I have a pretty strong interest and background in fundamentalist religions - it was my area of focus as a comp religion scholar lo those many years ago - and I almost always went back to the point science, and especially medicine, started moving away from its position as the handmaiden of religion.

It would be really fun to see what people did with this...but somehow, I don't see my department funding a trip to England any time soon!

Hey Penny,

February 8 sounds great. You can email me with instructions, suggestions, whatever. Thanks!


That's a good point re religion. I think religion and medicine have much more interconnection than most people imagine, and they certainly did historically.

Can anyone come to the conference? I am in my final year for BA history and am embarking on an MA next year followed by a PhD thesis investigating the presence of medieval women doctors in Europe, so this would be helpful!

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