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.
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