Caused Selves: Embodying the Material World in the Middle Ages
Julie Orlemanski (University of Chicago), Seminar Leader
Over the course of the Middle Ages, the interchange between the physical body and the natural world was variously conceptualized and imagined. Medicine was the discipline dedicated to the fact that, as humans, we’re made out of material stuff and susceptible to physical forces. But all kinds of discourses and practices circled around the natural body, seeking to ameliorate, understand, or reimagine it on their own terms. This seminar stages a conversation about the Middle Ages’ varied tactics for embodying the material world, both in medicine and in other spheres. We’ll inquire into the entailments and possibilities of the Middle Ages’ multiplicitously “caused selves,” especially as these were understood to participate in physical, material environments.
Each seminar participant will focus their presentation on a primary source (artifact, text, image, building, etc.). These sources will be circulated (in some version) in advance, among seminar participants. The two hours of the seminar itself will be spent in each participant presenting their source to the audience, staging the questions it enables us to ask; in reflecting collectively as a panel on the net effects of reading these sources alongside one another; and in Q&A with the audience and continued conversation among panelists.
Possible topics include, but are not limited to: plague and pandemic imaginaries, the interface of sickness and death, medicine as science and craft, vernacularizing medicine, humoral identities, embodying affect, emotion, feeling, or thought textual genres of healing, material cultures of healing, medieval disability studies, divine healing, spiritual health, history and culture of hospitals, “history of the body” vs. “history of bodies,” sexing bodies, racializing bodies, escaping or refusing the natural body and collectivity and the natural body. We welcome submissions dealing with the medieval period from any geographical location.
Interested participants are invited to submit an abstract (250-300 words) proposing a medieval primary source for the seminar and sketching some of the questions it opens up about caused selves and embodying the material world in the Middle Ages. Abstracts are requested by October 1; please include a CV as well (which will be consulted to ensure a diversity of academic ranks and positions). Abstracts can be submitted through our abstract portal.
Julie Orlemanski is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Chicago. Her first monograph, Symptomatic Subjects: Bodies, Medicine, and Causation in the Literature of Late Medieval England (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), considers embodiment in the historical period just prior to medicine’s modernity—before Renaissance anatomy, before the centralized regulation of medical professions, before empiricism and the rationalist division of mental from physical substance.