UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


O'Donnell, Tom

Current Research

I am currently working under the supervision of Dr William MacLehose on ideas surrounding fosterage in medieval Ireland.

The practice of fosterage was widespread among the nobility of Ireland, referenced in some of the earlier written sources and extending into the sixteenth century with Elizabethan writers such as Edmund Spenser and John Davies railing against the custom. My work concentrates on child-rearing in and around the twelfth century both secular fosterage and the practice of oblation, a practice rendered by Peter Parkes as "ecclesiastical fosterage". Over the course of the twelfth and thirteenth century Irish society was disrupted by the Anglo-Norman invasion and the widespread church reform that formed the spurious justification for it. Not only this but the twelfth century was the time in which the great Arabic medical treatises were being translated into Latin, giving the West access once to the Greek medical and philosophical tradition preserved therein.

I hope that by examining fosterage, and the associated acts of conception and parturition, in this light of social reform and expanding intellectual horizons I can presented a more fully articulated view of fosterage in Ireland. For fosterage was both a central cultural institution and a way in which to conceive of family bonds and interpersonal relationships in this transitory period of European history.

Previous Academic Work

I received my MPhil. in Celtic Studies from the University of Oxford in 2011 with my thesis 'The Construction of the Female Body and Womanhood in the Middle Irish Preface to Cáin Adomnáin'. I have published a brief work-in-progress paper based on this material in the MHRA Working Papers in the Humanities in 2010, which can be accessed here. Before this I received my BA in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic from the University of Cambridge in 2008.