Spices and Medicine


Paul Freedman

Health, Wellness and the Allure of Spices


ABSTRACT: Spices in their medieval meaning were aromatic products imported into Europe.  They came from as far away as the tiny Indonesian islands that supplied all the world's nutmeg and cloves until the eighteenth century, from India (which medieval Europeans imagined as a land of fabulous wealth and disturbing marvels), and from exotic lands imagined as well as real.  Their appeal was based on their use in cooking but extended to medicinal applications, fragrance and their power to denote high status.  They were regarded not only as items of gourmandise but as healthful and their medicinal properties were not limited to the treatment of disease but to what would now be termed "wellness" -- the pursuit of physical and mental well-being in the absence of particular disease or debilitation.  The paper looks at the various uses of spices in medieval Europe and the interactions between the taste for fragrance and the belief in its beneficent properties.  Spices were medicines in the medieval period, but the notions of medicine encompassed aspects of health that indicated social status, discriminating taste and an enjoyment of luxury.

About the Speaker

Professor Paul Freedman (Opening Keynote) is the Chester D. Tripp Professor of History at Yale University, CT, USA.  He specialises in medieval social history, the history of Spain, comparative studies of the peasantry, trade in luxury products, and  history of cuisine. Prior to joining the Yale faculty in 1997, Prof. Freedman spent 18 successful years at Vanderbuilt University where he was awarded the Nordhaus Teaching Prize and the Robert Penn Warren Humanities Center Fellowship. Since coming to Yale, Professor Freedman has served as Director of Undergraduate Studies in History, Director of the Medieval Studies Program and Chair of the History Department. He was a visiting fellow at the Max-Planck-Institut für Geschichte in Göttingen in 2000 and was directeur d'Études Associé at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris in 1995. A Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, a corresponding fellow of the Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona and of the Institut d'Estudis Catalans, he is also a member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Prof. Freedman has written extensively on the history of food, spices, and medieval culture. His honours include a 2008 cookbook award (reference and technical) from the International Association of Culinary Professionals for his book entitled Food: The History of Taste, and three awards for his book Images of the Medieval Peasant: the 2002 Haskins Medal of the Medieval Academy, the 2001 Otto Gründler prize given by the Medieval Institute at Western Michigan University, and the Eugene Kayden Award in the Humanities given by the University of Colorado. He won the American Historical Association's Premio del Rey Prize in 1992, and shared the Medieval Academy of America's Van Courtlandt Elliott prize for the best first article on a medieval topic in 1981. His most recent book, Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination,  printed by Yale University Press in 2008, was a source of  inspiration for this event.

Prof. Freedman earned his BA at the University of California at Santa Cruz and an MLS from the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. He earned a Ph.D. in History at the same institution in 1978.