welcome everyone to Winston at the lab I’m Tamsin and I work here at the uw-madison biotechnology Center I also work for UW extension Cooperative Extension and on behalf of those folks and our other cool organizers Wisconsin Public Television Wisconsin Alumni Association and the UW Madison science Alliance thanks again for coming to Wednesday night at the lab you do this every Wednesday night 50 times a year tonight it’s my pleasure to welcome back to Wednesday night’s lab Leah Pope Parker of the Department of English she’s going to be talking with us about her research on disability in the Middle Ages five brief histories Lee was born in Seattle Washington and went to Mountlake Terrace High School near Seattle and she went to the east coast of the United States to go to American University in Washington DC where she studied literature and theatre and she came to UW Madison to get her master’s in English which she got in 2014 and she has already defended her PhD thesis and she’s in this wonderful process called depositing and she will get her PhD in the spring here in the Department of English at UW Madison please join me in welcoming léopold Parker back to Wednesday night [Applause] check can y’all hear me okay great great I’m glad. thank you all for coming I was a bit worried when I realized I’d be speaking on the last Wednesday night official Wednesday night of the year and. I’m. glad to see you all here thank you for coming out and thank you Tom for that lovely introduction. I study the history of disability in literature and culture and. for those of you coming from more of a science or or medical background this may be a different perspective on disability from what you’re used to. rather than studying things like how disability works how the body actually biologically works my job is instead to think about how we think the body works and. I hope that brings you some exciting surprises this evening because my goal is to share with you a couple of different stories about how we used to think about how the body works and specifically how we thought the body works in the European Middle Ages specifically between the years well for me the Middle Ages are about 500 to 1500 seee but in terms of what I’ll actually be discussing really more like the late ninth century through the 15th and a little bit of the 16th century. I’ll be checking for how you’re falling beyond my stories all along. I’m excited to share these with you one thing I do want to point out is that my research is on the early Middle Ages like the 7th through the 12th centuries and specifically it’s on England and. that means that my examples here are going to be sort of biased in that direction it also means that the language is a lot easier to share but I will branch out into continental Europe and I’m happy to answer questions or respond to questions as well as I can about continental Europe if you have them. my goal here is to share share with you five different kinds of stories about how disability was understood by people living in Europe in the Middle Ages and. there will be a political story a medical story a religious story an artistic story and a poetic story each of these however contains within it components of some of the others. expect some some bleed across these divides these five case studies won’t tell the whole story and I want to emphasize that because medieval disability studies is actually a very new field just in the last couple of decades that started thriving and we’re still figuring out what the story was the big picture overarching story but these case studies do model some of the ways that we go about approaching disability and the larger story of his history of disability in the Middle Ages all of these blend humanistic inquiry with discourses of science and ideas from sociology and medicine in order to think through that history it’s an inherently interdisciplinary and intersectional field. before I dive straight into the Middle Ages I want to give some modern orientation to the field of disability studies there are some things I want you to know first of all that when we think about disability as a category there’s been a lot of ink spilled over what that even means many of the models for thinking about disability in terms of disability studies and disability activism have come in response to what is referred to as the medical model and that’s not to say that the that medicine is bad we all agree that we should have access to medicine and I don’t know healthcare and insurance but we we do agree that there is more to the experience of disability than just medicine and. that’s what the social and cultural models as they’re called react to in terms of medicine. the medical model is framed as thinking okay there needs to be a fix there needs to be a cure and yes absolutely medical treatment is valuable and important but there’s also other ways of understanding disability for example there is a difference between impairment and the actual social or cultural construct of what we call disability. let me break that down for you a little bit the physiological reality of our bodies can constitute an impairment for example a person may have a mobility impairment that impacts their ability to walk and. they use a wheelchair that is not necessarily a disability even though it doesn’t have to be experienced neutrally or positively it can be negatively even but it becomes a disability when the society in which that person lives makes it difficult to access certain resources or institutions or does not provide adequate and fair accommodations for example needing to use a wheelchair becomes a disability when you can’t get somewhere without going up stairs within this context of the difference between impairment and disability there’s been a lot of modeling in terms of what isn’t disability if you think about that you could say able-bodied miss perhaps it’s a bit wordy and it’s actually a fairly new term ability we don’t usually use in that context a lot of times we think about what is normal and refer to quote-unquote normal bodies but that too has some baggage and. a scholar Leonard Davis has argued that we didn’t really have this concept of normalcy until the 19th century when the development of statistics of demographics started making observations about larger populations and noticing some really tidy bell curves and saying okay well if you’re within a few standard deviations of average that is quote unquote normal and anything beyond that is aberrant. that’s an idea that Davis argues was developed in the 19th century he says that before that instead of constructing ourselves in fitting and keeping with or in opposition to the quote unquote normal instead we thought about and by we I mean Western civilization thought about the ideal and his example of this is something like Greek mythology where Venus or Aphrodite in Greek actually is the ideal form of a feminine woman and that’s not a form that any woman any real woman is expected to attain it’s not normative in that way by normative I mean it enforces this idea that you should want to be like this the way magazine covers or movies or doctored images of celebrities encourage us to want to be a certain way. Davis argues that the ideal was not normative this is a bit challenging when we want to look at a period between classical antiquity in the 19th century and this is where we start thinking about what could be different about the Middle Ages because in the Middle Ages there wasn’t this pantheon of figures whose bodies were ideals they’re not necessarily normative but there also wasn’t yet this concept of statistical normalcy and. part of my larger project is with a group of my colleagues to figure out okay what substituted that how did people understand their own embodiment how did they understand whether they fit whether they were part of an in-group or whether they were part of an out group and were there even such tidy divides what other speaking of tidy divides one other concept from modern disability says that I want to share with you is the idea of the norm eight and that comes from that word normative rosemary garland Thompson coined this in opposition to what she calls extraordinary bodies bodies that exhibit some kind of marker as different and that can be intersectional that’s not just having a disability it can also be being marked as different due to one’s race ethnicity skin color due to one’s gender due to one’s sexuality in terms of that expression of that sexuality and. the norm eight is defined as the absence of markers of difference it’s very much akin to the phenomenon of having medical trials where the population is entirely homogeneous I suspect you can imagine that that medical trial might be with a group of white middle-class middle-aged men and that’s how we end up with medicines where we’re not sure how they react for example in women’s bodies or engine in intersex bodies. that idea that there’s an unmarked body that is supposed to stand in for everyone that’s the norm eight doesn’t mean it’s wrong to have that body you can’t help it but it does mean that it’s a cultural force right that has real impacts in terms of real people’s lives and experiences of their own bodies whether they’re norm eight or not. these concepts are really valuable as foundational ideas for thinking through experiences of the body but they’re also essentially modern in a large part of my research is to argue that in the Middle Ages disability wasn’t modern it seems like such an obvious thing the Middle Ages were not modern and disability wasn’t monolithic either in the advertising for this event we pointed out that the Middle Ages spans roughly a thousand years and that means that there’s a lot of difference in that time and. even though I’m gonna skip around within the Middle Ages I don’t want to give the impression that there’s any kind of homogeneity individuals had distinct experiences and also different communities had distinct experiences. keep that in mind even as we move across this larger period and. in order to figure out how the Middle Ages might be different we need specifically medieval models for understanding disability and impairment as it was understood in the Middle Ages. a couple of models to start and then I promise I’m gonna start storytelling some models for the Middle Ages have come out to 2012 was a huge year for medical disability studies they’re like five more publications that really change the field at that time but two of them are really crucial for today first is Edward Wheatley who’s actually just down at Loyola University Chicago his religious model is very similar to that medical model I mentioned a few minutes ago in that it argues that in medieval Christianity specifically the dominant religion in Europe at the time in medieval Christianity impairment was something to be healed it was expected to be fixed and I could put fixed in scare quotes and that’s the sense of impairment being something that’s not desired but it’s also a bit more complicated than that because in medieval Christianity impairment even as it’s something to be fixed is also something that’s very necessary for conveying and demonstrating divine power. anyone familiar with the Christian Bible may be recalling that in the New Testament in the Gospels describing the life of Christ there are several healing miracles in which Christ will heal someone and in most of them he’ll say something like go forth and sin no more well that suggests that the disability or the impairment blindness or mobility impairment had something to do with having sinned it suggests that disability is a punishment for sin and we see and we will see in my stories that that’s an idea that was common know pervasive but common in the Middle Ages but when in a particular instance when Christ heals a man born blind his disciples asked who sinned that man or his parents Christ responds neither he has born blind. that I can demonstrate God’s power by healing him and that’s the the core of Wheatley’s religious model that there’s this contradiction between disability being something to be eliminated to be eradicated and yet also something really necessary to this core religious belief and faith in divine power that in the age of faith as the Middle Ages is sometimes called was really crucial to understanding what it meant to be Christian another way of thinking about disability is a very complicated and distinctly not modern phenomenon in the Middle Ages is Tory pure men’s gendered model the argument there is that is actually really rooted in medieval medicine medical understandings of the female body. in the Middle Ages one of the dominant ways of understanding sexual dimorphism in humans was that the female body or anything other than a masculine body was a flawed or deformed or weakened version of the male this should echo that idea of the norm eight that there is one standard and then there is the other and. this medical idea that in gestation in the womb a shortage of of temperature being not quite right or or the woman the mother looking at something wrong that that could create instead a daughter rather than a son that idea creates a concept of gender a concept of gender difference in a way that is disabling. if the idea that your body makes you other physically lesser that’s the correspondence there in this model between gender and disability this is what I’m getting at when I say that disability studies is an inherently intersectional model we can’t look at it in the Middle Ages and think of any kind of holistic model without thinking about the really crucial role of medieval concepts of gender and religion and as I’ll argue concepts of class concepts of race concepts even of age and nationality. when we talk about disability in the Middle Ages it’s tricky because there’s no unifying term there’s no language either Latin or Greek or a vernacular language that was spoken in medieval Europe that has a single unifying term but we do have some alternatives we could just speak about impairment lacking that social construct but that’s not quite there because there is a social contract there is stigma there is lack of access some folks have used infirmity off of the Latin word infirmity ox and then we’ll probably looks like the odd one out up there in hallu that looks weird because it’s Old English in hallow is an early version of what has become unwhole or unhealthy in modern english and it essentially refers to an idea of being not quite right in fact to use the term nor mate again it kind of refers to anything that’s not normal but of course because it’s a thousand years well came into use about 1,500 years before first married girl and Thompson was writing it’s also just not quite a perfect fit with that I until my colleagues prefer to use the term disability and this is for a very activist but also a very historical reason because disability studies is an inherently activist field it inherently proclaims and advocates for the rights of individuals with disabilities for whatever reason that they might have a disability whether it’s congenital or acquired or temporary or invisible that there is there’s deserving to be noticed there’s deserving to be recognized and there’s deserving to live one’s life that is an inherent argument of studying disability in this way and people with disabilities today I found often want to see themselves reflected in history we all do don’t we we want to see ourselves reflected in the history of where we come from or where we’re told we come from that’s why we study it when it comes down to it. in my definition disability is the experience of a physiological difference that usually but not always negatively impact an individual’s educational or professional prospects their need for medical treatment access to institutions services and public spaces and/or the perception of the society in which they live this is actually really easy to apply to both the modern current world and the Middle Ages because they’ve had bodies they had education they had professions medical treatments institutions public services and spaces and they definitely had a lot of thoughts about how folks who looked different from them fit or did not fit into their communities and that’s where we get the stories that I’m going to with you tonight we get these stories out of different approaches to bodily difference and sometimes it fit a lot better than we might imagine. I want to start with this political story how many of you have heard of King Alfred the Great yeah and if you don’t mind a little bit of audience participation what do you know about him anything at all he was an English king yeah and he birthed the Cape that’s what I was looking for those are the two things people usually know about Alfred the Great is that they say he’s the first King of England and he burnt the cakes I’ll get to the cakes in a minute first to dispel that myth he actually wasn’t the King of England he was the king of Wessex which was a kingdom of anglo-saxons well Saxons prior to the unification of what we now call England today. prior to well in the early Middle Ages there were a bunch of different kingdoms of different levels of power and at the time that Alfred was King Wessex was one of the few that wasn’t currently being ruled by Vikings. it’s the forbear of what became a unified England and Alfred is one of the first to label himself king of all the English although he does say king of all the English except those under the rule of the Danes. acknowledging that they’re okay. Alfred the Great Wessex is down on the south edge of England there. you can get a little bit of a visualization going he came to the throne in 871 in the midst of quite a lot of conflict it’s actually dramatized by the arrows swooshing all over this map England what would become England was under attack by Danish Vikings and this would eventually result in the creation of what is known as the Danelaw a region in the east and north of England where Danish law was prioritized over English law and actually studies have shown that even to this day the prominent the prevalence of blue eyes is dramatically higher on the Danish side of that line simply because of the genetic makeup of the people who lived there for. long. Alfred inherited this but he was never supposed to be king he was the last of five sons and all of his older brothers were kings before him he was actually trained it seems for more of a religious career he was allegedly brought to see the Pope and blessed by the Pope and he was given this fantastic education he was raised at court he was actually a very bookish and scholarly individual he also after he ran out of older brothers and became King that might have had something to do with the Vikings after he became King he actually lost Wessex he was kicked out from his throne and he was in hiding and this is when he allegedly burnt the cakes this is an uncorrupted folk story I love this folk story that he was in hiding from the Vikings he’s staying he’s he’s in hiding with this woman in the sort of rural cottage and she fakes he she doesn’t know he’s the king she leaves him alone while she’s cooking some small cakes like oak cakes when she comes back they’re burning because he’s. lost in his troubles he’s trying to figure out how to retain his kingdom and she comes back just why if you want the cakes burned because he’s the king and he knows nothing about how to cook. that’s not the important part of his story for tonight but figured I’d at least let you know that that’s what some some people will ask you for in the future. Alfred did get Wessex back and he did consolidate his power and after that point he did that through a successful guerrilla warfare campaign but also a successful propaganda campaign which may have produced the story about the oatcakes he consolidated his power and he produced an extensive literacy program which included drawing scholars to his court much like Charlemagne had done about hundred years before and these scholars these religious men these well-read men were involved in translating texts from Latin into English and I give you this list just to demonstrate that these are major texts in early Christianity boethius’s consolation of philosophy is often still read and taught today dialects of Gregory Augustin soliloquies Alfred allegedly himself translated this top list including the first 50 Psalms before he died there’s additional text that we are attributed to others in his program that should actually read Gregory’s pastoral care which is a text on how to essentially be a good pastor to your flock also some global history in the history scans the pagans and beads ecclesiastical history which was a native English text but written in Latin it’s the ecclesiastical history of what we now translate as the English people I also note that this image I’ve given you here is of what’s called the Alfred Jewell we call this the Alfred Jewell because it says around it Alfred orders me made and it was found very near to the island it used to be an island they drained the marshes that surrounded it where Alfred allegedly burned the cakes but it’s also what we think is it’s what we think is an Astle and an Astle is a very rare word in the text we have it describes we think the bulb or the handle of a pointer essentially something you would hold in your hand to point to the lines of a text and in the preface to that pastoral care texts that Alfred had sent to every bishop in his realm Alfred said he was sending as well and Astle worth 50 money denominations that we actually don’t know how to translate quite but a very valuable object and this which we founded is now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford may be one of those it may be something that Alfred this Alfred action ordered me what does that story have to do with disability it’s important to remember that Alfred had a chronic illness it’s been suggested that we could diagnose him as having Crohn’s disease a chronic inflammatory condition of the digestive tract and we know this not from physical evidence from his body we’ve actually lost his remains well we do have textual evidence that describes it a sir you’re welcome Tom wrote a biography of Alfred which we should we should be aware was propaganda it was trying to argue for Alfred perhaps being a saint and was also trying to argue for his political power as well it was written during his lifetime.

Wn@Tl - Disability In The Middle Ages: Five Brief Histories. Leah Pope Parker. 2021

Alfred would have read it but Pasteur puts a lot of emphasis on Alfred experience of his chronic illness. a sir describes it as a sudden and immense pain which was unknown to all physicians it’s beyond medical knowledge and it’s quote the worst thing that for such a long time from his 20th year up to his 40th and even longer Oscar was writing when Alfred was about 45 it his illness could be prolonged incessantly through. many cycles of years this comes from a passage of the biography describing Alfred’s wedding night this is when it came on I highlight this that this is the Alfred who kept Wessex out of Viking hands that this man had a chronic very serious pain affecting him throughout his life I highlight this not to make him an inspiration but to show how integral the identification with a physical impairment or illness they identification with what we call disability even without a term could be for constructing a medieval person and really a medieval cultures identity and there’s more because a saw actually gives some backstory on this. back in his lustful youth alfred was very troubled he was very pious by his lustful urges and. he allegedly besought the mercy of the Lord to the extent that the Almighty God in his immense clemency might change the torments of this present and troublesome infirmity for some lighter illness on this condition nevertheless that the new illness should not appear on the outside of his body lest he might become useless and despised he feared leprosy and blindness or some other such disease which soon make men upon whom they fall both useless and despised there’s a lot in here. let’s unpack it a bit. Alfred from his youth had piles or hemorrhoids and as actually says that when the more intense illness came on people thought it was related if it was Crohn’s disease it was an Alfred wanted to resist his lust. he asked for some lighter illness not to have no illness but to have a lighter illness one which is not visible to the outside one which is not stigmatized in the way leprosy or blindness would be for him and an important thing to note here is that we have some evidence that in roughly Alfred’s time blindness could be disqualifying from kingship his grandson who we could more comfortably call the first King of England was not the the obvious choice to become King because he may have been illegitimate but he was the oldest son of Alfred’s oldest son and when he went to go claim the throne he was attacked and his attackers attempted to blind him that attack it appears was meant to prevent him for becoming King didn’t try to kill him they tried to blind him and that cultural understanding that understanding of vision impairment as something that inhibits one’s ability to be a good judge to be a good ruler to be a good king that is the kind of stigma that takes an impairment into becoming a disability an Alfred doesn’t want this he wants something that impairs his lust but does not disable his kingship and of course God doesn’t give him a lesser illness after a short interval of time as alpha as a sir says he contracted the previously mentioned bodily affliction the piles that was the first illness through the gift of God in which illness laboring long and painfully for many years he despaired even of life until after he made his prayer and God took it away from him entirely. to clarify the timeline a bit he has piles from his childhood well from his adolescence where he wants to not be. lustful he has the hemorrhoids and then he prays sort of a spur of the moment while he’s out hunting he goes into a chapel and prays could I have a lesser illness and God took the hemorrhoids away from him but alas when it was taken away another more troublesome disorder sees him as we have said at his wedding feast and this wore him out incessantly by night and today from the 20th year of his age up to his 45th year but if at any time through the mercy of God that illness were banished for one day or a night or even for the interval of only one hour nevertheless the fear and dread of that terrible bodily pain never left him as it seemed to him but but rendered him almost useless as it seemed to him in divine as well as in human affairs. what we have here is a disability because Alfred is. hampered he’s. unable to do what he believes he should be able to do it’s rather than a social social or a culturally enforced stigma it’s something that Alfred seems to be imposing on himself at least as a sirs presenting it remember this is propaganda but Oscar is very careful to say it rendered him almost useless as it seemed to him in divine as well as in human affairs the fear and the dread of that terrible bodily pain never left him this is the king who shaped the English language as it is today because this is the king who had such a translate such a vast translation program that literacy in English became prized much more highly than it ever had been before English literature would probably not be what it is today without Alfred’s chronic illness which as an adolescent kept him reading kept him in book learning and also motivated some of his patient’s are the translations he ordered of medical texts the words I’m speaking to you right now would not be the same and recognizing the cultural political and social power that disability has in that way in terms of how the Middle Ages still impact us today reveals just how much the way we conceive of disability in the present day how we understand it as something that makes us useless or useful by by calculating our worth in terms of use it has impacts that could affect us for centuries. Alfred the Great was a major historical and political figure for whom we have a name and a history and documents and I can show you maps of where he whirled but that’s not most of the people who lived in the Middle Ages and. even though I spent quite a lot of time on Alfred I want to give some time to these remaining stories for well the next three will be dedicated to those more anonymous medieval people who lived with disabilities. thinking about medicine I’m gonna jump ahead a couple of centuries to a monastery in the northwest of England I don’t have another map for you northwest of England want to introduce you to the tremulous hand of Worcester if you were here in April when I spoke about multispectral imaging and stains I mentioned the tremulous hand of Worcester this that’s call back for you the chummy’s hand was a monk and scribe at Worcester Cathedral Priory who experienced based on the evidence of his handwriting a congenital tremor that would have caused his hand to shake producing varying degrees of impairment throughout his life and that’s basically all we know about him we know what texts he wrote in because we can identify his characteristic handwriting and I’ve given you some samples here you can see the lighter brown ink is the tremulous hand and he’s writing in the margins of texts that are a hundred 200 years old books lasted longer than than they do today and you can see especially in that top left hand example how his handwriting shakes from side to side there’s a bit of a waiver in the ascenders the vertical lines in his handwriting that’s how we know that this person existed and that this person had a disability. prior explanations tended to focus on Alzheimer’s disease or old age as explanations for the tremulous hands characteristic tremble but actually his career was. long he was writing in versions of his handwriting for about half a century it wasn’t half a century of old age. we know that he lived and continued to live and continue to work in a way that was perhaps accommodated that was perhaps made possible by the circumstances of living in the Prairie on an embodied level there’s a great deal of variation in the pigment of the ink we see here and I’ll return again to that top example you’ll see the H it’s the 4th letter in that H is far darker and then you’ll see it gets darker again in the the right hand side of the ei at the beginning of the second word those variations in the ink reveal part of the embodied experience of this tremble because there’s a higher degree of fading in the ink between dipping of the quill then in most medieval scribes handwriting the high degree of fading suggests that the rhythm of the tremulous hands penmanship is out of sync with the timing required by the materiality of ink pen and parchment there’s a temporal dimension of the tremulous hands scribal practice that both moves too fast making for those wavy ascenders and too slow allowing the ink to fade before he refills it every couple of letters and this is the emergence of disability out of impairment for someone who we don’t have a name for it’s a physical reality of his tremor affecting the process of his scribal labor impacting both the appearance of his work and what must have been his lived experience of the process of writing now the tremulous hand is identifiable today solely because of this disability because the evidence we find in manuscripts is because of the tremor that were able to identify it all as the same scribe but surely he must have known his identity to be much more than this tremor it was not consistent it varied considerably over the course of his lifetime such that it’s actually very difficult to put all of the text that he wrote in in order it was neither a stable nor consistent marker of his identity but nonetheless it’s through the physical activity of writing in which his tremor is. apparent that his intense research agenda where he’s reading and writing in all of these texts becomes apparent to us it’s only because of this tremor that we know he existed at all and because of his hand read we can also learn quite a lot about the about the experiences of being a monk in the 13th century this text says don’t expect you to read it’s I know very small this is an herbarium an herbal it’s a a book of remedies from herbs and plants this is the table of contents and you’ll notice on that right hand side there are a couple of E’s between the columns those were written by the tremulous hand and we found well scholars before me have found that there’s a pattern in what he marks he tends to mark far more references to cures for dimness of the eyes or soreness of the eyes and then a couple for like bladder stones inability to urinate a skin condition like there were other concerns as well but by far he’s clearly more invested in cures for palms of the eyes whether it’s vision impairment or pain and now we don’t know if this means that it’s something he experienced or perhaps if it’s something particularly common for monks who are writing and reading all the time with no artificial light for 50 year career I would have symptomless of my eyes – but the Selective grouping does suggest that at the very least these remedies are a particular interest to the tremulous hand or to his larger community and to my knowledge I don’t actually know if these remedies worked more scientific scholars that I are testing them and some anglo-saxon remedies did work. that’s great but that’s not the important thing here the important thing here is that an individual we have an individual here with one kind of impairment involved in the treatment involved in the understanding and the addressing of another kind of impairment and it shows us it reminds us that even if we can identify an individual an anonymous individual in this case and say they had such-and-such even if we can give that diagnosis there’s always a possibility of more factors to their identity and that to me makes them incredibly real and human. to think more about the relationship between faith and medicine because the Treme’s hand was a monk I want to now share a rather revealing story of a Christian Saint and actually those of you perhaps some of you grew up going to Catholic school or Sunday School anybody know about Saint Margaret excellent this is a brand-new story for you st. margarets fantastic she bursts out of a dragon. briefly according to Christian High Geographic tradition margaret of antioch was a young Christian woman living in late 3rd or early 4th century Antioch which is near modern-day antakya in Turkey in accounts of her martyrdom margaret is determined to protect her chastity from the pagan prefect who wishes to marry her she does want to marry him because he’s not Christian and she’s therefore tortured in prison and eventually killed this is not an uncommon narrative in hagiography about virgin martyrs in Christian in medieval Christianity but Margaret’s legend is unusual in two very telling ways first while she’s imprisoned Margaret defeats not just a devil but also a dragon in many versions including the one I’ll talk about in just a moment she’s swallowed by the dragon and burst out of its belly by making the sign of the Cross and that’s illustrated here in a later a mid 15th century Parisian image secondly after ultimately being beheaded or before before being beheaded although some things talk after being beheaded it’s a separate thing margaret prays to ask for certain privileges and comforts for those who had venerate her as a saint including that wherever there has kept a copy of the book of her martyrdom let there not be born a child that is blind nor halt nor dumb nor death nor vexed by an unclean spirit and. here we have this bringing together of impairment the stigmatized as disability and childbirth it’s what I would consider a proto eugenic logic the idea of let us not bring such children into the world which is deeply troubling to me but it’s also an idea that led to the proliferation of her cult her Saints cult because she burst out of a dragon’s belly and because she promises childbirth without disabled children she became the patron saint of childbirth she’s no longer recognized by the Roman Catholic Church because there’s no evidence she ever actually existed but there are legends of Saint Margaret that survived from as early as the 8th century and they probably existed before then the Old English version of this life that’s translated here is drawing upon Latin sources and was most likely composed in southern England at Canterbury it was composed in the middle of the 11th century there’s an association between sin and disability here particularly in this last item not vexed by an unclean spirit by this we might take a different version of this might be that your child will not be possessed by a demon an unclean spirit that from other texts likely as a reference to certain symptoms of mental illness there are other passages from early medieval England that describe individuals who scream or whale or thrash who are later than exorcised as in there is an exorcism and that that is what heals them but if you look at further descriptions of of the symptoms in those contacts there’s a very good chance that certain mental illnesses could be at play here. there’s moralization of these features not just because margaret says they won’t be there but because she aligns them with the uncleanness of an unclean spirit and this categorization I believe is really crucial here because she’s pulling all these things together she’s saying that blindness mobility impairment deafness being nonverbal being having some kind of mental illness or cognitive impairment perhaps those in poor health are later mentioned all of these are brought together and I mentioned a little while ago that there’s no single word in Old English or really any medieval vernacular that encompasses all of these different experiences of the body the way we use disability today as a category an identity category but their collection together here suggests that there was something they held in common and. even though there’s this really horrific eugenic logic at work here we can also recognize a nascent sense of community a sense of solidarity a sense of that unity that did eventually several centuries later produce movements like disability rights activism it’s difficult to locate that kind of community elsewhere in the Middle Ages and I see this as a suggestion that even though here it’s framed negatively perhaps there were people with disabilities in the Middle Ages who experienced that community positively there’s another way that very troubling depictions of disability can also help us think about nuance in disability in the Middle Ages cosmas and Damian this is another pair of Saints has anyone heard of them I would have expected more people to know Margaret than cosmas and Damian because there won’t eat Stern Saints but like that’s great cool. there were physician Saints we’re eventually martyred but depictions of them because they were physicians often show them attending to a sick person’s bedside often examining a bottle of urine which my second image includes that was a way of diagnosing in case it was new information but there’s also a persistent thread in their iconography that deals with a very specific miracle and it’s called the miracle of the black leg as you may be able to guess from that moniker this story deals specifically with medieval notions of race and notions of intersectionality between race and disability it also deals with depictions of violence specifically violence against bodies of people of color and. if that’s going to cause you any kind of distress or anxiety I encourage you to do whatever you need to do to maintain your well-being whether you’re in the room with me now or watching the feed as this miracle goes a white man had an infection in his leg a gangrenous festering wound which the Saints miraculously replaced with the leg of a dead black man he’d recently been interred in a nearby cemetery as we can see on the right side of this image this is an Italian painting from the 14th century I promised I would leave England at some point. there are a couple of reasons why this particular racialization of this miracle might have occurred probably there wasn’t actually a successful limb transplant. I’m assuming it’s not based in reality but remember what we’re looking at here is not historical medical practice but stories ideas about what it meant to have an impairment or what it meant to treat an impairment what it meant to be an organ recipient even in the Middle Ages and I suspect that part of the reason there’s such a vast visual tradition here dozens of examples probably existed is that it’s visually compelling if you look at it there is a visual distinction that highlights the fact that that leg is not the leg the white man was born with and. there’s a spectacle here there’s a sense of appropriation of body of a person of color for the purposes of the spectacle we should remember that as much as this does look like a modern transplant we can’t necessarily hold the figures in the story or the people who appreciated it and shared it in the Middle Ages to modern expectations about things like medical informed consent even in addition to the leg donor being deceased there’s no organ donor card he could sign or the back of his driver’s license. that we can’t really hold them accountable to but we can see this as a way of holding on cultural forebears in the European Middle Ages accountable for understanding some kind of relationship between disability and race and what I find interesting about this is the fact that this transplant is even considered possible because it means that there is something biologically substitutable here and if you’re familiar with the very racist imperial justifications for slavery in the 18th 19th and 20th and 21st centuries this idea that there’s something inherently different about a body with different colored skin it’s quite pervasive in those really failed excuses and. the fact that sometime in the Middle Ages for a lot of the Middle Ages there wasn’t anything that inherently different about white bodies and black bodies I think is a really valuable idea to pull out of this but we need to remember that this is still the actually very literal appropriation of a body part for the sake of spectacle for the sake of a religious story for the sake of demonstrating as we previously discussed in the medical the religious model for medieval disability the the demonstration of divine power through this healing miracle now I want to point out that in some versions of this legend the miracle occurs before the Saints have died cosmos adamian but in some variation that occurs after they’ve died and they just miraculously do this from beyond the grave that’s not unusual for medieval Saints legends but notably there are also some versions of the story that disagree on whether the black man was actually dead and this is the image that is I find particularly disturbing this image was made in Spain in the 16th century. I could totally jettison it and say well it’s not really medieval it’s not the medievals fault but it’s inheriting that tradition we have to hold the ancestral line of images before it accountable this image shows the black man on the lower right as a live donor who has had his leg severed and it’s being reattached well attached to the white man above him you’ll see one of the Saints is doing the attaching the other is examining a bottle of urine the states to be on my period of expertise. I don’t want to make huge claims about some kind of development between the 14th and 16th centuries in which this kind of image became more acceptable to Europeans that it became more acceptable to think about dismembering a living person who in this depiction is is shown in extreme agony I don’t wanna suggest that that became more acceptable between the 14th and 16th centuries but I don’t think we can ignore the possibility that in an era of massive enslavement and colonization as the 16th century is getting us into this image became more acceptable. this is perhaps the most fragmentary of the stories I have for you I have just one more but this is fragmentary because it’s outside of my primary expertise geographically it’s not England it’s temporarily out of my expertise it moves more toward the early modern era and it’s also discipline airily outside of my expertise I’m not an art historian but I found it important to share with you as a reminder that disability never exists in isolation it didn’t in the Middle Ages just as it doesn’t today individuals with disabilities always have other identities many of which also function as marginalizing in intersecting ways and if we think about disability as a larger cultural concept that functions to police quote unquote normal bodies from those that are deemed aberrant then we also have to acknowledge the intersecting systems that police the the norm eight body that that which is unmarked by race or class or gender or sexuality national origin etc in the Middle Ages as today studying disability through the science helps us to access these intersections for understanding identity and the body. one final disability history for you now when to return to the realm of the literary because it’s always nice to end at a place where one is most comfortable and I want to think not just about bodies but also about minds which would argue in the Middle Ages constituted a part of the body very much as they do today when you think about like body mind wholeness. I want you to see the Thomas Hauk life we have another named individual to end as well Thomas Hauk leave was a 15th century bureaucrat and poet in London he fancied himself an inheritor of Chaucer was a big fan of Chaucer’s poetry and and thought that he was sort of taking up the mantle of the next father of English poetry literary historians generally don’t quite agree some do in 1414 Hockley have experienced an acute bout of mental illness and we know this because of two sources first archival research has demonstrated that there was an interruption in hock leaves bureaucratic career at this point because the records say he wasn’t getting paid and quite the same way he was working in quite the same way but the records don’t say why but secondly we have the poet’s own words describing an autobiographical or at least semi autobiographical form an experience of what he calls a wild infirmity on a timeline that fits with that break in his bureaucratic career. the first part of a sequence of five poems called Hawk leaves series is a poem called my complaint and it describes the poet’s experience both when he was in the throes of his acute symptomatic phase and also afterward in this lingering stigma associated with that condition and despite his assertions that he’s recovered from that primary mental illness the the Speaker of the poem also describes a kind of melancholy a version of depression that he is impacted by in his present moment while writing the poem. the complaint is constructing the poet’s experience of what we would now call neuro diversity that is any mental psychological or cognitive situation other than what might be called normal the complaint constructs neurodiversity through poetry and this is that final method for studying medieval disability that I want to share with you because it draws on the affordances of poetry as a source for historical study of cognition. that we can go beyond what third parties say when they’re describing a medieval person with a disability in order to look at a record that expresses the experience and the words of that person himself. Hawk leap describes his sickness as something that vexed him a thoughtful malady and as hard as. filled with grief that in the morning he bursts out writing after he’s had a really troubled night’s sleep it’s a kind of melancholy as I said a kind of depression due to his recollection of his past sickness and his despair over ever being reintegrated into society he’s continuing to be rejected by his peers even though he claims he’s been completely cured for five years and even though for five years Thomas who’s Thomas Hauk leave is the the author I call the narrator Thomas because that’s how he refers to himself in the poem Thomas and have wits have been in accord for five years as he puts it but he says that all of his old friendships are entirely over shaken no one wants to hang out with him and the world as he says makes him a strange countenance they pretend they don’t know him when he through the busy streets of London. I want to use it as an example to to look at neuro divergence any difference in one’s cognitive processes through poetry and we can do this by starting with para scholarship on the manifestation of normative cognition that is processes of thought or patterns of ideation in prosody prosody refers to patterns of rhythm and sound in poetry for those of you coming at this from more sciency backgrounds and not. much poetry if you’ve ever learned anything about prosody there’s a very good chance it was I Amba contaminate spirits sonnets this one may be familiar to you there’s that ten syllable line or with five units of two beats each. for example shall I compare thee to a summers day that art more lovely and more temperate I can emphasize the beats in that a little bit more shall I compare thee to a summers day thou art more lovely and more temperate that’s a fairly normal I am a parameter language it’s not to say Shakespeare always wrote normal iambic pentameter he also wrote some weird stuff but this is fairly regular even in this very regular line or pair of lines we can see the way in which prosody that rhythm reflects a certain way of thinking about the content of these lines about what the meaning of the words is you can see that for example in thou art more lovely and more temperate I’ve emphasized it there lovely bridges between two feet of the meter and as a result if you slow it down you have to linger over the word lovely and that suggests quite a lot of things it suggests a pattern of thought embedded in the poetry dwelling upon the idea of the relationship between love and loveliness the importance of physical appearance in this poem when we think about prosody as a reflection of cognition what it comes down to is as Eric why Scot says at the level of metrical structuration the structure of metre where language becomes a verse metre and thinking are one and the same in other words the patterns of our language specifically in poetry both shape and reflect the ways we think patterns of language both shape and reflect the ways we think my view the idea that prosody reflects but also informs cognition is fertile ground for thinking about forms of cognition that are often figured as marginal both in the Middle Ages and today just as the very presence of a body typically a human body opens the door for the utility of disability studies the presence of cognition invites thinking specifically about differences in cognition that is neuro diversity we can see this repeatedly in hawk leaves complained when he is described in his own experience of some kind of mental illness for example part of Thomas’s account of his melancholy reads and this is also in iambic pentameter familiar form the grief about mean help the. source wall and Boland ever and ever a toe and toe. sorta that’s middle english macro translate for you because the rhythm is important but in rough terms the grief of browned my heart swells. sorely and in bone litter or bolstered swelling ever around and around. again sorely or injuriously it’s a rough translation the metre of the original is important though because it’s what gives us the unit of mean Herto it performs a perfect heartbeat of an iamb and the words that follow seem to follow that in mean Herto. Sora the occurs again in the next line as toe and toe. sorta. painfully. sorely and a new rhythm emerge an insistent rhythm and those repeated Oh sounds toe and toe. soda it’s not exactly iambic it’s an interrupted heartbeat in the meter that is supposed to be dead um dum de dum it’s a somatic symptom of emotional and psychological distress but it’s rendered poetically in the metre of the lines describing the distress of his heart similarly the lines in which the speaker is describing his prior mental illness not that one again in Middle English witness upon the wild infirmity which that he had a as many a Manuel Neuer on which mute of myself forecast and through a Pacifica to say within the rhythm. Drive translation witness look upon the wild infirmity which or that I had as many a man well knew and which through myself and cast myself out of myself the Middle English afford the much more concise representation of that but the metre is hard because the pronouns especially in this last line are difficult to read aloud smoothly especially without multiple attempts I’ve been doing this like trying to figure out how to read this line for months and months that it still troubles me. it’s easy to follow the rhythm of the previous line and just say on which I’m a out of my self focused and through uh but that doesn’t account for things like the final E in me Silva which would be pronounced in Middle English sort of interrupting or pulling us aside it it’s too many beats if we look at those slashes as representations of a stressed syllable there are six there are not supposed to be six another option which doesn’t fix the problem on which may on which you may it of me amigo forecast and through a that sort of fixes it and that there’s like five beats but you have to squish in multiple unstressed beats in between it’s very difficult to say and what you get is and which may suit of me me Silva cast and through. when the poet is saying and which me out of myself cast and through the rhythm casts you up and out of that very word me Silva because you can’t say that doesn’t make any sense at all except if you’re trying to make it sense in the rhythm of the meter. all in all when we highlight the correspondence between meaning and poetic form in ways like this there’s this correlation between thought and meter it reveals some of the very real experiences of neuro diversity that a person such as Hawk Lake might well have had and that to me is powerful evidence for history of mental health that I’m pursuing in my future work and remember we all want to find ourselves in history and. my hope is that by teaching poets like Hawk leave to undergraduate students sharing poets like hawk leave with you is to share that sense that even the poetry that we recognize as some of the more prominent if not quite Chaucer level poets still more prominent poets from medieval England but they were experienced these kinds of things and for many of us that’s a very familiar experience. how do I conclude this I’ve traced here this evening five different ways of looking at histories of disability in the middle ages can even list them for you we can look at disability as a force and an experience with political significance and consequences as an experience that bridged both religious and medical understandings of the human body as a stigmatized collection of embodiments that well perhaps not as marshaling as we might marginalizing as we might expect we’re in many communities not desired and thus became the site for proto eugenic impulses to prevent congenital disabilities we can think of disability as a category of identity that reveals intersectional systems for understanding identity embodiment and power well before the modern era and we can also think of disability as a very real lived experience the real people had that left traces in poetry and in other cultural objects that we’ve inherited from our medieval past there’s a first quite a lot of other ways to look at disability in the Middle Ages but I was told I only had one hour and I’ve already gone well over that I also don’t have any more slides you might have seen an earlier version of the title of this talk in which I was calling it disability in the quote-unquote dark ages I put dark ages in quotations and eventually ditched it from the title because well we medievalists don’t like it when you call our period the dark ages it wasn’t actually all that dark sure there were collapses in political structures after the fall of the Roman Empire there may have been setbacks in science but only in parts of Europe during the so-called Dark Ages the Islamic world was flourishing the culture that developed with Christianity but also Judaism and other cultural forces in Europe also flourished and we have quite a lot of art from that period in fact one of the ways we can push back on the idea of it as the dark ages is to think instead of this period as the illuminated ages because that’s what they did they they painted their texts their books in gold and it was called illumination and they thought deeply and hard about their worldview about their cosmology of theology of religion but also just of how the world works in a very material earthly sense and that extended to medical concepts of disability and also social experiences of disability and. if I leave you with anything tonight I hope it will be that that it wasn’t entirely doom and gloom wasn’t without his problems but then again neither are we thank you I would be happy to respond to any questions that you have yes that one that’s actually an easel painting it’s not an illumination in a manuscript sorry right in sequence but it starts right let’s is that’s something that you commonly see yours as a convention that’s new to us that if you’re going to do something in sequence and. you’re a friend to thee to repeat the question or did you have your mic on okay to repeat the question what Tom’s noticing is that this sequence goes from right to left instead of left to right the earlier action is depicted on the right and we’re used to today reading images like comics or murals or anything that’s a temporal progression from left to right that’s not entirely new to the modern era but I will again I’m not an artist or Ian but I can tell you that this kind of continuous representation of different parts of a scene in different parts of a frame did not have a conventional order or directionality that it needed to have in the same way that a text actually very easily can say this white man who had a gangrenous leg had a black leg transplanted onto him oh yeah that black leg came from this cadaver you can also get that kind of backstory in an image and.

I don’t believe it was that much of a problem for original viewers of this in the 14th century but you’re absolutely right that that is something we’ve moved away from today yeah well if you look very closely there are these little red tick marks I believe that’s supposed to be the gangrene and that’s probably why it’s. swollen I bet it smelled great especially back in the in the coffin thank you any other questions that I can respond to what did she say that again I do not. the question was do I use James just patternmaker pronoun analysis I do not would you like to tell me more about that use these kind of bakers text analysis to perform oh yes the idea of prosody –is cognition draws upon analysis of how pronouns function and attacks yes I haven’t dug into that but it’s actually on my list I hadn’t recognized the name but thank you may I respond any other questions baby people see as opposed to abandon babies are born. is there that’s what I was reading into what the prayer was rather than say why you go that route as opposed to just kidding yeah that’s that’s a really great question thank you. the question was why interpret that story of st. Margaret promising that a woman who prays to her will not give birth to a child with some kind of congenital impairment she lists out several I interpret that as in utero healing or as possibly an abortion or some other kind of rejection of a child that already has an impairment rather than as a plea to conceive a healthy child in the first place. my main reason for that I think that’s a perfectly valid interpretation and I do believe it’s definitely open to the possibility that people who venerated Margaret did. when they were not currently pregnant in the plan to hopefully have a healthy child however we also have some material context that suggests that the veneration of st. Margaret was really critical to the period of being pregnant and giving birth we have from later medieval England a surviving strip of parchment. basically leather you can ride on which has a version of her story written on it and we can tell from its shape from its design from what’s written on it it was designed to be worn as a girdle around a woman’s waist while giving birth. we do know that some of the the practical knowledge we have about the practicing of this cult did occur in the context of actual childbirth and. that to me suggests that there’s this idea that the baby already exists the fetus exists and there’s this request for it to become somehow different and that does not mean infanticide and I want actually should stress that in this period for all that I can’t say infanticide never happened it was not the norm it was not the norm to just leave your baby in the woods if you didn’t like how they turned out but stories like this show that people were still perhaps disappointed I hope that answers your question a bit do you mean when yes and that has been done and I assume you’re thinking about looking at human remains yes yes yes. the question was can we look at these with modern science and give diagnoses one answer is yes sometimes we can but a follow-up question then is should we it’s very Jurassic Park we can sometimes we’re not always sure that we should do something just because we can. with the terminus head of Wooster with his trembling hand writing that diagnosis of a congenital tremor actually comes from modern physicians who analyze his handwriting. that’s an example of precisely what you were asking about another famous example you may recall a couple of years ago the skeletal remains of Richard the third were found under a car park in Leicester and. there’s always been this yes the question of whether or not he was a hunchback as Shakespeare depicts similar as other sources to picked him and it turns out he had I don’t recall the precise diagnosis but I Lee I believe it’s a form of scoliosis and. they were scientists were able to look and I assume physicians medical historians were able to look at the bones and diagnose in that way I mentioned this question of whether or not we should and when we do have physical remains I don’t think it’s wrong to figure out what those tell us it only is wrong to look at Richard the Third’s body and say okay yes he did have some physical difference that was being remarked upon it also appears he didn’t have quite the physical difference that many productions of Shakespeare’s Richard the third suggest and. that’s possibly a very good thing to be able to say well actually it’s more like this but when we’re looking at something like poetry when we’re looking at something like Saints lives which are very complicated narratives and that they are in some ways understood were understood to have been true but also may have been understood to be somewhat fantastical I’m not saying that everyone who believed in st.

Margaret believed in dragons we can’t know that for sure but trying to offer a diagnosis based on the rhythm of one’s poetry I think it’s currently a bit beyond us at least in terms of responsible ways of thinking about mental illness I would not want someone diagnosing me solely based on my writing but I do know that in some medical practice that’s a part of it. I’m not an ethicist I can’t give you a direct answer but I do want to point out that many of us in the field have some discomfort around assigning modern labels when it’s something particularly things like mental illness that could have very specific cultural contexts I mentioned that melancholy was a form of depression melancholy was a term used in the late medieval and early modern era the symptoms sound a whole lot like depression but because it’s a very different cultural context it was experienced in a very different way even if the biological mechanism was similar or even exactly the same. I want to be careful about applying modern diagnoses but also absolutely it can be incredibly valuable to say look this is an impairment that existed in this period and we can know that we have a person who had this experience thank you for that question any other questions I could spawn – yeah. it’s hard question was how common do how commonly do we find evidence of what we now call mental illness and it’s very difficult to find in part because it doesn’t leave a record in archaeological evidence it does not necessarily leave a record in texts because there was a much lower rate of literacy as you may be aware and. fewer people are writing down I felt the rather sad today I felt incredibly depressed or these kinds of records that you could get from autobiographical writing. it’s a lot harder to find evidence for mental illness than it is for physical impairment I would say though that it’s not isolated to figures like Thomas Hauk leave the poet who was writing about his own experience we also have accounts from from fictional and semi fictional narratives that describe people behaving in ways that we might characterize as mental illness today and there have in fact been many efforts to take something like the dsm-5 and say well did they have these symptoms that they have those symptoms and that again is something where mental illness is. culturally situated it’s rather difficult to ascribe a diagnosis but we can certainly say this person is not behaving or experiencing their mind in a way that is understood by their culture as normative. you might take someone who is in Old English poetry you often get people who are very angry who swell with rage and that is described in a way that literally describes the physical organ of the mind swelling and that is it impairs their mental state it impairs their actions they make all kinds of bad choices and that’s a mental state that I would not feel comfortable ascribing to a modern mental illness diagnosis I could ascribe it to a certain public figure but I wouldn’t give it a diagnosis I feel comfortable calling it some form of no diversity no divergence perhaps even a mental illness but that’s one of those places where I’m very hesitant to give it a label other than it fits into this category that’s part of why I love neuro diversity as a term because it doesn’t require a diagnosis it simply requires all of our minds work differently and sometimes we don’t quite fit in the box that society gives us yeah doctors physicians the question was are there any medical books where physicians or doctors have written out remedies and and what they were treating the answer is yes in fact some fantastic I like to call them colleagues I’ve only met one of them folks over at Nottingham in the UK have tested an early medieval English remedy for eye infections it involves leaks and wine and garlic they found that in lab conditions advice staffel skites it fights methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus more effectively than modern antibiotics. if item ursa better than some modern antibiotics and. that’s obviously far away from like human trials or anything like that but that was directly from a recipe in an early medieval manuscript and that I believe is evidence that it wasn’t all quacks and remedies made from horse dung although those did exist too we have quite a few of those any other questions Oh