Medievalism and the Medical Humanities

Some may wonder why our project includes the consideration of medieval thoughts and practices relating to the breath. What can studying them possibly offer modern medicine? In a special edition of the journal postmedieval two of our project team, Prof Corinne Saunders and Prof Jane Macnaughton, and other contributors make a compelling case for the role of medievalism in 21st Century critical medical humanities.

Like medical humanities, medievalism is innately interdisciplinary – it is impossible to study medicine in the medieval period without also taking into account their beliefs about body, mind and soul as well as the religious, social and political contexts of the time. Taking this long historical perspective also serves to remind us that sometimes ideas of health, disease and normality are social constructs. We only need to consider the vilification of homosexuality for a more contemporary example of a socially constructed ‘disease’. And whilst it might seem pointless to study discredited medieval theories (like humors), the critical distance this allows can help to highlight both divergence and continuity. Our understanding of the world is always changing and evolving, but it is remarkable the way that some apparently medieval ways of thinking are still embedded in our collective consciousness.

All of our research is published open access. If you have trouble reading them please do get in touch.

The image shows a 13th Century anatomical illustration from a manuscript held in the Bodleian Library.

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