CFS: Dis/ability and Pain in the Middle Ages

Edited volume: Corporealities of Suffering. Dis/ability and Pain in the Middle Ages (eds Bianca Frohne and Jenni Kuuliala)

The history of disability is a very recent field of research, especially with regard to the Middle Ages. Whereas the premise articulated by scholars in the field of disability studies is that we must not automatically equate ‘disability’ or ‘impairment’ with negative feelings like pain or loss, we recognise that over the course of a lifetime, several types of illness or impairment are likely to cause prolonged pain or to be perceived of as painful in the course of time.

This article collection will focus specifically on experiences of long-term pain, which, in the Middle Ages even more than today, threatened all people in equal measure, with rather limited opportunities to alleviate pain effectively. In this regard, pain itself could become a disability. In order to explore this relation, our aim is to bring together research on long-term suffering with a central focus on pain as a corporeal experience.

As a starting point, we would like to concentrate on the body as an experiencing agent: the medieval body was conceptualised as essentially permeable and changeable, its materiality constantly shaped and rearranged in accordance with interior and exterior sensations. In this regard, the material, sensational body could not only be affected by injuries, illnesses, or its humoural constitution in general, but also by emotional experiences or religious beliefs and acts.

We would like to explore the cultural constructions of the body in pain with special regard to these concepts, notions, and beliefs of medieval corporeality. Important questions include, but are not limited to: How was physical pain handled within the family or community? What kind of a role did physiological aspects play in descriptions of long-term suffering, and did the contemporary theories of sensations have an effect on them? How did the physical experience of long-term pain shape the behavioural codes within specific social groups or communities, and how did prolonged suffering affect views on corporeality in general? The proposed article collection stands at the crossroads of the history of the body, disability history, the social history of medicine, and the history of religion in daily life. The temporal and geographical focus of the collection is the European Middle Ages from ca. 500 to 1500.

Of specific interest are papers that:
– understand dis/ability as a fluid and non-fixed concept that affected a majority of people one way or another
– include socio-medical perspectives
– have a sensitive approach to gender, social status, and age
– have an interdisciplinary approach
– consider differences and correlations between voluntary and involuntary pain

If interested, please send us your abstract of ca. 300 words as a Word document by October 15 2015 (bfrohne@uni-bremen.de or jenni.kuuliala@uta.fi). The deadline for the articles is May 15 2016.