Writing Old Age and Impairments in Late Medieval England
A ground-breaking study of old age impairments in Middle English literature and their function as prosthetic additions, which draw attention both to the debility of old age and its ability to complete and drive narrative.
The old speaker in Middle English literature often claims to be impaired because of age. This admission is often followed by narratives that directly contradict it, as speakers, such as the Reeve in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or Amans in Gower’s Confessio Amantis, proceed to perform even as they claim debility. More than the modesty topos, this contradiction exists, the book argues, as prosthesis: old age brings with it debility, but discussing age-related impairments augments the old, impaired body, while simultaneously undercutting and emphasizing bodily impairments. This language of prosthesis becomes a metaphor for the works these speakers use to fashion narrative, which exist as incomplete yet powerful sources.
Introduction: Staves and Stanzas
Chapter 1: Crooked as a Staff: Narrative, History, and the Disabled Body in Parlement of Thre Ages
Chapter 2: A Reckoning with Age: Prosthetic Violence and the Reeve
Chapter 3: The Past is Prologue: Following the Trace of Master Hoccleve
Chapter 4: Playing Prosthesis and Revising the Past: Gower’s Supplemental Role
The special issue emerges from the
interdisciplinary research project Disability before disability
(Icel. Fötlun fyrir tíma fötlunar) situated at the Centre for
Disability Studies at the University of Iceland, initiated in 2017,
and supported by the Icelandic Research fund (Icel. Rannsóknasjóður)
Grant of Excellence No 173655-05.
Recent years have seen growing interest
in the exploration of disability in premodern societies and cultures.
In line with the now commonly accepted (working) premise that
disability is a multi-factorial phenomenon, scholars have come to
realise that there can be no fixed, atemporal or acultural definition
of disability. Thus, in order to consider whether and how premodern
societies may have conceptualized disability, scholars must shed
presentist preconceptions, cast a wide net, and be prepared to read
between the lines. Equipped with an understanding of disability as a
tool of sociocultural analysis, scholars today commonly make use of
the concepts of ‘embodied difference’ and ‘marked or unusual
bodies’ to yield more fruitful results as they do not imply
pre-defined notions of disability. Although the body becomes a
central platform on whose basis disability is negotiated, scholars
are in no way limited to speaking only of the physicality of bodies.
Rather the body is understood as a medium which materialises and
translates physical, psychic, and intellectual differences in a way
that societies can identify them as deviations from what is
considered ‘normal’ in specific historical and socio-cultural
contexts. Indeed, the phenomenon of disability cannot be studied
without the contrast of what a culture or society conceptualizes as
‘ability’ and identifies as ‘normal’. The term ‘dis/ability’
can be used to express this inherent relationship and to remind us
that it is not possible to understand one without recognizing the
Within this theoretical context, we
invite proposals for essays (c. 7000 words) for a special issue of
the journal Mirator that seeks to expand upon growing interest of
dis/ability in the context of the medieval Nordic world. Contributors
to the special issue will explore dis/ability within the context of
different social arrangements and cultural conventions in the
medieval Nordic world. We will especially welcome contributions that
focus on close reading of specific texts (historical, legal,
literary, etc.) as well as suggestions for broad, methodological
approaches towards the study of dis/ability in the medieval Nordic
world. Contributors will be encouraged, where possible, to expand the
scope of their research to include related aspects from the fields of
cultural studies, social theory, history, art, etc. In the context of
the medieval Nordic world, possible topics include, but are not
Approaches to the experience of dis/ability (i.e. sources, methodology)
Dis/ability and society
Religion and dis/ability
Dis/ability and medical knowledge
Intersections of dis/ability with age, gender, social status, etc.
Dis/ability and the law
Narrating experiences and perceptions of dis/ability
Dis/ability, assistive technology, and care
Terminology or language of dis/ability
Contributions dealing with geographic
regions in the medieval Nordic world, including Denmark, Finland,
Iceland, Norway, and/or Sweden, are welcome. We hope to represent all
of these regions in the special issue and are particularly eager to
field proposals dealing with Danish and Finnish material.
Please send one-page essay proposals
accompanied by brief author bio (c. 100 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org by
June 1, 2019. In order to achieve an expeditious production timeline,
essay drafts will be due in January 2020. Please feel free to contact
us with any questions or concerns you might have in the meantime.
More Fuss about the Body: New Medievalists’ Perspectives
Editors: Leah Pope Parker and Stephanie Grace-Petinos
In her 1995 essay “Why All the Fuss about the Body?: A Medievalist’s Perspective,” Caroline Walker Bynum presented a nuanced picture of embodiment in the past in order “to suggest that we in the present would do well to focus on a wider range of topics in our study of body or bodies.”* The same year saw the release of Bynum’s magisterial exploration of the body, identity, and medieval Christian eschatology in The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200–1336. Almost 25 years later, Bynum’s call for diversity with respect to histories of the body still inspires increasingly nuanced approaches to medieval embodiment.
London, British Library, “Harley Psalter” Harley MS 603, fol. 6v
We invite proposals for short essays of approximately 5,000 words for a volume of original research that seeks to revisit, expand, and update the ideas presented in Bynum’s seminal essay, while using it as a springboard for future investigations concerning the body, both medieval and modern. We seek essays that deal with personhood, identity, and the material body, updating histories of the body through areas of study that have grown in popularity since the mid-1990s, including disability studies, trans studies, queer theory, postcolonial studies, posthumanism, ecocriticism, animal studies, and the global Middle Ages, along with new developments in feminist and critical race theory. Possible essay topics include, but are not limited to:
Bodily integrity and the limits of the body, healing damage to the body, or bodies and borders (i.e. the treatment of bodies in immigration/incarceration);
Theologies of death and resurrection and rituals of burial and remembrance;
Bodies centered and marginalized—including discussion of recent movements such as #metoo and Black Lives Matter;
Present-day concepts of embodiment and their medieval predecessors as presented in popular culture;
Comparative and cross-cultural concepts of the body; and/or
The body in queer/crip time.
The organizers of this panel are committed to including perspectives representative of the diversity of the field, and especially welcome proposals from “new” medievalists, that is in broad terms, those who have joined the field since 1995. In the spirit of Bynum’s invitation to consider “a wider range of topics in our study of body or bodies,” we welcome papers that offer critical reflections upon the field of medieval studies, and which represent diverse and innovative perspectives on medieval histories of the body and contemporary medievalisms.
Please send abstracts, accompanied by an author bio of no more than 200 words, to email@example.com by February 1, 2019.
NB: In order to achieve an accelerated production timeline, essay drafts will be due to the editors in fall 2019.
*Caroline Walker Bynum, “Why All the Fuss About the Body? A Medievalist’s Perspective,” Critical Inquiry 22 (1995): 1–33, p. 8.
The goal of this session is to explore technological developments in health and medicine between 1400- 1700. We seek contributions that focus on the promotion of new tools and therapies for health benefits among individuals and populations, or on the salubriousness of buildings and cities through innovative materials or structural and urban infrastructures. Approaches that center on technologies for healthy living and disease prevention, and not simply reactionary treatments or responses to crises, are also welcome. Additionally, proposals may consider the provisional character of technological developments as processes in order to examine failures in the history of health and medicine. We encourage interdisciplinary papers that engage contemporary treatises, intersections of religious and therapeutic practices, and the visual and material culture of health, as well as submissions that incorporate the global circulation of knowledge during the period.
Objects, Extensions, Prosthetics: The Body and Subjectivity in the Pre-Modern Period
Wednesday 28th February 2018, 1-6pm Newcastle University.
We invite postgraduates and early career researchers based in the North to give short (15 minute) talks at an afternoon seminar event on Wednesday 28th February 2018. This event will include a key note from Professor Helen Smith (University of York) in response to the talks given and a group discussion of the topics to close, as well as a free lunch included. The seminar will focus on how objects function as extensions of the self the medieval and early modern period. Can objects be sites of emotional or literary expression? Do they reflect pre-modern notions vi interior/exterior selves? Can they be considered as Metonymic’ substitutions for the self? We invite PGRs/ECRs to present on this theme a, well as partake in group discussions over the course of the afternoon. Topics might include (but are not limited to) the following:
The body (skin, hair)
Fashion (clothing, textiles)
Books (print., literary or personal, notebooks)
Stage props (/object and costumes)
If you would like to get involved with this seminar event and give a short paper, please send an expression of interest along with topic details (no more than 200 words) no later than 15thJanuary 2018. and/or any queries. to Emily Rowe – firstname.lastname@example.org