Sense and Nonsense Conference 27-30 August 2019
Conference call for papers: Sense and Nonsense
This biennial conference of the European Association for the History of Medicine and Health marks the 30th anniversary of the Association since its founding conference in Strasbourg in 1989. The title of the conference has been chosen to recognise key themes at the heart of medical history debates and discussions, and will take place in the heart of England, at the University of Birmingham.
Confirmed keynote speakers include Professor Ludmilla Jordanova (University of Durham), Professor Robert Jütte (University of Stuttgart) and Dr Vanessa Heggie (University of Birmingham). Expert sessions on public engagement and social media, among others, will also be run by Dr Vanessa Heggie and Alice Roberts, television presenter and Professor of Science Engagement (University of Birmingham) specifically for early career scholars on the first day of the conference.
Call for Papers
In the most literal of senses, the Scientific Board welcomes abstracts that will explore the history of sense perception, singularly or collectively and within medicine and health globally over the broadest of chronologies. Centring on touch, taste, smell, sight, sound or the heightened, honed, dulling, disability or loss of senses, or touching on their employment through food, pain, analgesia, polluted streets or pestiferous zones – and the emotional responses elicited – this conference encourages engagement with the emerging field of sensory history and its potential to revisit many familiar topics in fresh ways and provoke new insights. The centrality of the senses to medicine and health cuts across time periods and is apparent throughout the ancient and modern worlds, although the reliability of the senses have not always been accepted without question. At times, for example, ‘seeing is not believing’ through fakery or faith, hallucinations or delusions. And while not all periods have valued sight, neither has every practitioner cared or dared to touch their patients – all senses, like touch, having equally been gendered, if not varied with class, age and race or shaped by medical condition, comfort or neurodiversity.
While the five senses may have been recognised and embraced during the Enlightenment as the route to all knowledge, it was during this ‘age of reason’ that the so-called Western World and its colonies witnessed the rise of the asylum. Care became central for those who appeared to lose their senses or who were thought only capable of nonsense, in part because they were widely recognised as having human sensibilities and sensations and not those of animals. The senses and the action of the surroundings on them became instrumental in decisions about design and treatment, and people considered to be mentally ill or incapacitated became part of a growing body of patients who were isolated from communities. Periodically, due to war, migration and urbanisation, the senses have been overwhelmed by encounters with unfamiliar or rapidly-changing worlds in which amplified sights, smells, noises and even vibrations were held potentially to precipitate episodes of mental ill-health.
Both the history of the senses and of mental health and illness have been involved in paradigm shifts in the discipline of history, and this forms another strand to our theme ‘Sense and Nonsense’. Often new paradigms, both in historical fields and medicine, provoke aggressive responses and opposition, especially from those with the greatest investment in orthodox practices. Equally, in crowded medical marketplaces, alternative healers were very quickly identified by their rivals as ‘quacks’ and, just as the hierarchy of the senses was periodically challenged, so too were hierarchies of healers. Contested knowledge has led some figures to exaggerate claims and bred scepticism among experts and various publics, no more so than in our own destabilised ‘post-truth’ world of trickery and ‘alternative facts’. While this has bred much confusion historically, it has also led a return to rationality, objectivity and common sense. As often, it has encouraged trust in the illusory, the paranormal or the sixth sense. Ultimately, ‘Sense and Nonsense’ have always played a part in the way people and populations have tried to make sense of health and illness.
We particularly welcome proposals for panels touching on these and other topics, including, but not limited to:
- Epistemologies of the senses through time
- Animal, human, inter-species and transhuman senses
- Reading non-verbal signals and uncovering the rationale behind premodern medicines
- Extra/sensory perception and its metaphors across cultures and clinics
- Visual cultures and those of taste, sound, scent and touch
- Looking/seeing, listening/hearing, touching, smelling and tasting in medical education, examination and diagnosis
- Energy, chakras, meditation, mindfulness and the senses and their management
- Pain, torture, itching, scratching, numbing and sedating as experience, crime, punishment or therapy
- Hyper-sensitivity, diversity, ability or disability through the senses, including burns, light sensitivity, synaesthesia, acute hearing or sight loss
- Insensibility, drugs and psychoactive substances
- Enabling technologies and technologies of touch, tactile imagery and haptic healing
- Material culture and experiences of space through the senses, health, illness or as patients
- Feeling and feelings
- Mental capacity, signs of reason, neurological signs and auras
- Fever, chills, hallucination, delusion and trauma
- Nonsense, speaking in tongues, gibberish and jargon
- Paradigm shifts in medicine and medical history
- Ethics, experimentation and the return to common sense
- Experiments, therapies or designs using the senses or sensory deprivation
- Making sense of medicine and translating ideas into practice
- Geographies of the senses; virtual worlds and technology
Individual submissions will be received until 30 Jan. 2019 and should comprise a 250-word abstract, including five key words, and a one-page CV with contact information. Panel submissions should ideally include three papers (each with 250-word abstract, keywords and short CV), a chair and an initial introductory 100-word justification. If you wish to organise a roundtable, please include the names of participants and short 500-word abstract. We also invite poster presentations and ideas for novel sessions. As this is an anniversary year, the organisers will also be collecting and displaying images and items commemorating the work and activities of the EAHMH since the Association’s founding. Please contact us about anything you are happy to share. All submissions should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org