'Why is my pain perpetual?' (Jer 15:18): Chronic Pain in the Middle Ages
29 September 2017, 9:00 am–7:00 pm
Institute of Advanced Studies
IAS Common Ground, Ground Floor, South Wing, Wilkins Building
Pain is a universal human experience. We have all hurt at some point, felt that inescapable sensory challenge to our physical equanimity, our health and well-being compromised. Typically, our agonies are fleeting. For some, however, suffering becomes an artefact of everyday living: our pain becomes 'chronic'. Chronic pain is persistent, usually lasting for three months or more, does not respond well to analgesia, and does not improve after the usual healing period of any injury.
Following Elaine Scarry's (1985) seminal work The Body in Pain, researchers from various humanities disciplines have productively studied pain as a physical phenomenon with wide-ranging emotional and socio-cultural effects. Medievalists have also analysed acute pain, elucidating a specifically medieval construction of physical distress. In almost all such scholarship - modern and medieval - chronic pain has been overlooked.
The new field of medieval disability studies has also neglected chronic pain as a primary object of study. Instead, disability scholars in the main focus on 'visible' and 'mainstream' disabilities, such as blindness, paralysis, and birth defects. Indeed, disability historian Beth Linker argued in 2013 that '[m]ore historical attention should be paid to the unhealthy disabled', including those in chronic pain ('On the Borderland', 526). This conference seeks specifically to pay 'historical attention' to chronic pain in the medieval era. It brings together researchers from across disciplines working on chronic pain, functioning as a collaborative space for medievalists to enter into much-needed conversations on this highly overlooked area of scholarship.
Read the transcript of the conference here.
Relevant topics for this conference include:
-Medieval conceptions and theories of chronic pain, as witnessed by scientific, medical, and theological works
-Paradigms of chronic pain developed in modern scholarship - and what medievalists can learn from, and contribute to, them -Comparative analyses of chronic pain in religious versus secular narratives -Recognition or rejection of chronic pain as an affirmative subjective identity -Chronic pain and/as disability -The potential share-ability of pain in medieval narratives, such as texts which show an individual taking on the pain of another -The relationship between affect and the severity, understanding, and experience of pain -The manner in which gender impacts the experience, expression, and management of an individual's chronic pain
-Prof Esther Cohen (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), one of the foremost scholars on pain in the Middle Ages, will deliver the keynote address: 'What is Chronic Pain in a Non-Neural Age? Working Definitions, Sources, and Methodologies'.
-Dr Katherine Harvey (Birkbeck, University of London, UK), 'Chronic Pain and the Saintly Bishop in Medieval England'
-Dr James McKinstry (Durham University, UK), 'Headaches, Diseases, and Old Age: William Dunbar's Diagnosis of Chronic Pain'
-Dr Michele Moatt (National Trust and Lancaster University, UK), 'Chronic Pain and Prophecy in the Twelfth-century Life of Aelred of Rievaulx'
-Catherine Coffey (Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland), '"Mit zwoelf tugenden stritet si wider das vleisch": The Body Fighting the Flesh in Mechthild von Magdeburg's Das fließende Licht der Gottheit'
-Katherine Briant (Fordham University, New York, USA), 'Pain as a Theological Framework in Julian of Norwich's Vision and Revelation'
-Dr Nicole Nyffenegger (Bern University, Switzerland), 'Mary's Perpetual Physical Pain: Affective Piety and "Doubling"'
-Prof Wendy J Turner (Augusta University, Georgia, USA), 'Mental Complications of Pain: Age and Violence in Medieval England'
-Dr Bianca Frohne (University of Bremen, Germany), 'Living With Pain: Constructions of a Corporeal Experience in Early and High Medieval Miracle Accounts'
-Dr William Maclehose (University College London, UK), 'A Locus for Healing: Saints' Shrines and Representations of Chronic Pain'
Bursaries for attendance:
This conference is generously supported by the Society for the Social History of Medicine. As such, members of the Society for the Social History of Medicine may apply for bursaries to facilitate attendance. We encourage all eligible parties to apply. Please see here for full details.
-The conference registration fee is £20. The fee is waived completely for concessions (students, the unwaged, retired scholars), though all attendees must register for the conference.
-The registration fee covers refreshments throughout the day for attendees, including tea and coffee at breaks, a sandwich lunch, and a wine reception. If you have any dietary requirements, please list these when you confirm your attendance.
-Registration closes on 1st August 2017.
How to get to the conference:
-For details as to how to get to UCL on public transport, please see here.
-Please enter UCL through the gates at the Front Lodges on Gower Street (marked by the big red pin in the map below). This entrance offers the most direct route to the workshop location.
-The workshop takes place in the Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS), University College London, UK. We will be in the room Common Ground which is on the Ground Floor of the South Wing in the Wilkins Building. There is a variety of seating types available for attendees in this room. We will also have a QuietRoom (the Council Room G12) available for attendees to rest and take a break, located directly opposite Common Ground.
-Please follow the route as shown in the map below to reach Common Ground from the Front Lodges. This route is wheelchair accessible.
-To consult the disabledgo.com Access Guide for the Wilkins Building, please see here. Accessible bathroom facilities are available directly next to Common Ground, and also on the Lower Ground floor (by lift).
If you have any queries, including access requirements, please do not hesitate to contact the organiser, Alicia Spencer-Hall (a.spencer-hall [at] ucl.ac.uk).
This conference contributes to the 'Sense and Sensation' research strand at UCL's Institute of Advanced Studies. This strand also comprises a Reading Group focused on chronic pain. To join the Reading Group, please email the organiser, Alicia Spencer-Hall (a.spencer-hall [at] ucl.ac.uk).