Saturday, July 26, 2008

Society-sponsored session at SEMA

For anyone heading down to St Louis for the SEMA conference this October, you may be interested to know that the Society is sponsoring a session entitled Defining Disability.

Hope to see a few Society members there!

Chaucer and medieval disability studies

Readers of this blog may be interested in J. J. Cohen's summary of the New Chaucer Society (NCS) conference, which recently took place in Swansea, Wales.

He briefly touches upon the plenary given by Chris Baswell, in which he discussed "eccentric and odd bodies so eloquent that it [disability studies] cannot help but to be marked as the announcement of a possible future for the field. Though he refused to use the word "disabled," preserving the Middle Ages as the time before such a label, such temporal separation was immediately -- and quite movingly -- undercut by his passionate self-identification with these eccentric bodies."

Cohen goes on to state that "
NCS Swansea will someday be looked back upon as the great moment of arrival among medievalists for disability studies."


Saturday, May 31, 2008

Medieval Jewish understandings of disabiilty

One of our readers, Michael Pitkowsky (who has his own blog), has kindly sent us three articles by Ephraim Shoham-Steiner that deal with medieval Jewish perceptions of disability.

The articles are:
  • The Humble Sage and the Wandering Madman: Madness and Madmen in an Exemplum from Sefer Hasidim
  • Poverty and Disability: A Jewish Perspective
  • An Ultimate Pariah? Jewish Social Attitudes Towards Jewish Lepers in Medieval Western Europe
If anyone would like any (or all) of these articles, please post a comment on this post or email the gubernatores at [medievaldisabilitystudies @ gmail . com] and we will gladly forward the PDF file(s) to you.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Conference Notice:

The third annual Disease, Disability, and Medicine in the Middle Ages conference is taking place this summer, 5-6 July 2008, in Oxford. For more information, contact Sally Crawford at [sally . crawford AT arch . ox . ac . uk] (with the usual removing of spaces, and replacing AT with @).

I'm posting this, despite how quickly it approaches, because I know that it is hard to keep track of all the conferences and activities that happen. It would be good to publicise conferences here as well as in the traditional places, so that more of us can hear about them. If you are planning or attending a conference with disability themes, let us know here and we will post it!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Response to 'Medieval Disability Studies'

Well, I started to write this as a comment on Greg's post, but it started to grow and grow like that plant in _Little Shop of Horrors_, so I decided to make it into its own post as a way to make this into a more visible conversation. Anyway, here we go:

The phrase "medieval disability studies" itself is an interesting one, because when we started using it I just assumed that what we meant was a merging of the two fields--Medieval Studies and Disability Studies. To be honest, this is the direction that my own research is taking; that is, I would ultimately like to bring the two fields together in interesting ways so as to contribute to both fields at the same time. Being in an English department, my interest is in literary representations of disability and how these either match up with or subvert social constructions of disability. I confess, too, that my interests are not limited to medieval literature (I'm working on a book on disability in the Wizard of Oz tradition in addition to my medieval projects), so this might fuel my desire to see Medieval Studies and Disability Studies intersect. I do think that the theorists working in Disability Studies have much to offer us as we construct models for understanding medieval disability, though, and once we come up with those models we will in turn be contributing to both fields simultaneously.

I see what you're saying, though, Greg. Are we an "Other?" I don't think so. True, we can't check off our own box (yet!), but I think we are very much a part of Disability Studies, and, while we may be on the margins of Medieval Studies right now, that field is big enough that I like to think we are a small piece of the larger pie. If anything, I think we are simply a sub-field of two much larger fields. It's a good place to be, though, because we can benefit from both. What say ye?

Monday, May 26, 2008

'Medieval disability studies'

While writing my posts for In The Middle, I was using the term 'medieval disability studies' to provide a short-hand name (perhaps 'descriptor' would be a better term?) for the field. What follows is a brief summary of my thoughts, which I hope readers of this blog will find useful in stimulating discussion on larger issues.

The term 'medieval disability studies' is also evident in the address for this blog and its email contact address, which leads me to think that it is indeed more of a descriptor rather than an actual definition of the field itself.

In my ITM post, I remarked upon the reliance of this field on modern disability history and the theories and frameworks it has established in order to provide guidance and a sense of purpose to 'medieval disability studies'. Is the term itself (potentially) anachronistic in that it would not be understood in the medieval period, or at least not in the same sense that it is today? On the flip side of the coin, is the phrase itself potentially misleading in that it implies that this field is an offshoot of (modern) disability studies?

Put baldly, is 'medieval disability studies' a modern, non-medieval field, or is it a legitimate medievalist field? Where exactly does it lie in relation to both modern disability studies and medievalist studies?

The American Historical Association has added disability history to its checklist of specialities that is part of its membership form.* If one were to apply for AHA membership, would one check off 'medieval history' or 'disability history', or both? Do not those two terms imply an incongruity in one's scholarly pursuits, given the implication that 'disability studies' refers to the study of disability in the modern period and the medieval period is, well, medieval?**

Does the field of medieval studies need to allow for disability studies? It would be nice if the registration form for Kalamazoo, for instance, allowed one to check off '[medieval] disability history' instead of just checking off, in my case, 'British history', 'the Church', and 'Other'.

Is this what 'medieval disability studies' is right now, an academic 'Other'? Or if we are not an 'Other', what are we?

*Linda K. Kerber, “Enabling History,” Perspectives 44 (November 2006): 3. The Society for Disability Studies ( and Disability History Association ( are two new organisations dedicated to studying disability history in an academic setting.

**See, for instance, The Disability Studies Reader, 2nd ed., ed. Lennard J. Davis (New York: Routledge, 2006). The closest this well-known and -respected reader gets to medieval history is a brief, but footnote-rich, article on deafness in ancient Greece.

Medieval disability studies post up at In The Middle!

Greg's first post on medieval disability studies is up at In The Middle.

A second post regarding Margery Kempe will go up later this week, while a third post detailing legal examples pertaining to the disabled will be drawn up for posting in the near future at the request of Karl Steel, one of the co-authors of ITM.

Karl has also written up a thoughtful essay on disability in advance of my post. You may read it here.

Please feel free to comment on the posts at ITM, or send in your comments to [medievaldisabilitystudies @ gmail . com] and the gubernatores will gladly post them here for you.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Forthcoming guest-blogs at In The Middle

Greg and Alison have been invited to guest-blog at In The Middle, a medieval studies blog run by J.J. Cohen et al., about medieval disability studies and their particular interests in this new field.

Greg will be putting up his post at ITM some time this week, and Alison will be putting up her post in the near future.

We will post a note when Greg's post is up at ITM. Please feel free to stop by ITM to read it and engage in what will hopefully be a lively discussion!

Email address for the Society

We have set up an email account for this blog.

The address is [medievaldisabilitystudies @ gmail . com]. (Please remember to remove the brackets and spaces within the address. Thank you.)

The account can be accessed by all three administrators/gubernatores. If you would like to see something posted on this blog, please feel free to contact us at the above address and we will be glad to post your note for you.


Friday, May 23, 2008


Welcome to the blog of the Society for the Study of Disability in the Middle Ages, a newly-formed, scholarly organization that is devoted to exploring medieval disability through many different lenses. We hope this will be a forum to allow society members (and others) to discuss their ongoing projects, to promote the development of medieval disability studies, to debate current issues relevant to this burgeoning field, and to make connections with our fellow scholars in other areas of medieval studies and with those who study disability in later periods.

If you'd like to join the Society, please contact me at [eyler _ joshua @ colstate . edu], and I'll add you to the list. (Please remember to remove the brackets and spaces.)

Thank you and enjoy!