Pain is a universal human experience. We have all hurt at some point, felt that inescapable sensory challenge to our physical equanimity, our health and well-being compromised. Typically, our agonies are fleeting. For some, however, suffering becomes an artefact of everyday living: our pain becomes ‘chronic’. Chronic pain is persistent, usually lasting for three months or more, does not respond well to analgesia, and does not improve after the usual healing period of any injury.
Following Elaine Scarry’s (1985) seminal work The Body in Pain, researchers from various humanities disciplines have productively studied pain as a physical phenomenon with wide-ranging emotional and socio-cultural effects. Medievalists have also analysed acute pain, elucidating a specifically medieval construction of physical distress. In almost all such scholarship – modern and medieval – chronic pain has been overlooked.
The new field of medieval disability studies has also neglected chronic pain as a primary object of study. Instead, disability scholars in the main focus on ‘visible’ and ‘mainstream’ disabilities, such as blindness, paralysis, and birth defects. Indeed, disability historian Beth Linker argued in 2013 that ‘[m]ore historical attention should be paid to the unhealthy disabled’, including those in chronic pain (‘On the Borderland’, 526). This conference seeks specifically to pay ‘historical attention’ to chronic pain in the medieval era. It will bring together researchers from across disciplines working on chronic pain, functioning as a collaborative space for medievalists to enter into much-needed conversations on this highly overlooked area of scholarship.
Relevant topics for this conference include:
- Medieval conceptions and theories of chronic pain, as witnessed by scientific, medical, and theological works
- Paradigms of chronic pain developed in modern scholarship – and what medievalists can learn from, and contribute to, them
- Comparative analyses of chronic pain in religious versus secular narratives
- Recognition or rejection of chronic pain as an affirmative subjective identity
- Chronic pain and/as disability
- The potential share-ability of pain in medieval narratives, such as texts which show an individual taking on the pain of another
- The relationship between affect and the severity, understanding, and experience of pain
- The manner in which gender impacts the experience, expression, and management of an individual’s chronic pain
- Dr Katherine Harvey (Birkbeck, University of London, UK), ‘Chronic Pain and the Saintly Bishop in Medieval England’
- Dr James McKinstry (Durham University, UK), ‘Headaches, Diseases, and Old Age: William Dunbar’s Diagnosis of Chronic Pain’
- Dr Michele Moatt (National Trust and Lancaster University, UK), ‘Chronic Pain and Prophecy in the Twelfth-century Life of Aelred of Rievaulx’
- Catherine Coffey (Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland), ‘“Mit zwoelf tugenden stritet si wider das vleisch”: The Body Fighting the Flesh in Mechthild von Magdeburg’s Das fließende Licht der Gottheit’
- Katherine Briant (Fordham University, New York, USA), ‘Pain as a Theological Framework in Julian of Norwich’s Vision and Revelation’
- Dr Nicole Nyffenegger (Bern University, Switzerland), ‘Mary’s Perpetual Physical Pain: Affective Piety and “Doubling”’
- Prof Wendy J Turner (Augusta University, Georgia, USA), ‘Mental Complications of Pain: Age and Violence in Medieval England’
- Dr Bianca Frohne (University of Bremen, Germany), ‘Living With Pain: Constructions of a Corporeal Experience in Early and High Medieval Miracle Accounts’
- Dr William Maclehose (University College London, UK), ‘A Locus for Healing: Saints’ Shrines and Representations of Chronic Pain’
- Prof Esther Cohen (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), one of the foremost scholars on pain in the Middle Ages, will deliver the keynote address.
If you have any queries, including access requirements, please do not hesitate to contact the organiser, Alicia Spencer-Hall.
This conference is generously supported by the Society for the Social History of Medicine and the Institute of Advanced Studies at University College London.
NB. The conference registration fee is £20. The fee is waived completely for concessions (students, the unwaged, retired scholars). Registration for the conference will open shortly, and be conducted via the UCL Online Shop, in the ‘Conferences and Events’
Members of the Society for the Social History of Medicine may apply for bursaries to facilitate attendance at this conference. Please see here for full details.