Disease, Disability & Medicine in Medieval Europe
Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Workshop 2012
Generation and reproduction in medieval Europe
Conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and the raising of healthy children (or animals) were high-risk endeavours in the Middle Ages, the focus of many hopes and anxieties. These emotions found expression in prayers and charms, in private letters, in hagiography and miracle accounts, in records of ecclesiastical and secular courts, as well as in advice literature and medical writings. Themes to do with generation and reproduction were also at the centre of imaginative writings, notably romance and fable, and of medieval art. The range of evidence available for historical investigation is thus very wide, though the private experiences of those involved are as always hard to plumb.
This meeting will explore the beliefs and practices that surrounded generation and reproduction and the frames of understanding that underlay these. One focus of interest is the tension between normative discourse, texts that tell people how they should believe and act, and other discourses that are resistant to or circumvent the injunctions of law, dogma and discipline. Another is the extent to which the development of scholastic methods of analysis in the medieval universities, as applied to philosophical issues in generation and reproduction, produced new interpretations of gender roles in conception, of ensoulment in the developing child, and of the responsibilities of church and state in promoting robust children and population numbers. A third area of interest is the extent to which generation and reproduction came to be thought of as health issues at all in the Middle Ages. How far did concepts of disease and disability seem to apply to mothers, fathers and children?
This day workshop will address these themes, but will also seek to identify other questions concerning generation and reproduction with reference to medieval Europe between 800 and 1500. Proposals are invited for contributions to this theme which may include the following topics, as well as the areas of interest described above:
- concepts of generation
- diseases or disability associated with generation
- failures of generation (infertility, impotence)
- contraception, menstrual regulation and abortion
- rituals of prognosis and protection
- management of birth
- monstrous and normal births
- embryonic development and ensoulment
- care and nourishment of infants and children
This workshop will be held in collaboration with the Generation to Reproduction project based at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in Cambridge. The meeting will be held at King’s College, Cambridge, on 8 December 2012. Two invited speakers, Marianne Elsakkers and Gabriella Zuccolin, have already accepted.