Symposium on Disease and Disability in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Andrea Alciati, Andreae Alciati Emblematum libellus, 1526. Case W1025 .0165
Andrea Alciati, Andreae Alciati Emblematum libellus, 1526. Case W1025 .0165
Center for Renaissance Studies Programs
Other Renaissance Programs
Saturday, February 20, 2010

Session 1: Disability in the Middle Ages

Chair: Sandra Sufian, University of Illinois at Chicago

Kings and Cripples: Royal and Eccentric Bodies in Medieval Europe
Christopher Baswell, Barnard College and Columbia University

Mephibosheth in the Middle Ages: Disabilities, Children, and the Most Vulnerable of the Vulnerable in Medieval Europe
Walton O. Schalick III, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Children are central to understanding disability in the Middle Ages. Much of this focus stems both from inherent features of children and from medical interpretations of those features. The inchoate medicalization of disability and the social responses thereto emerge as a valuable contribution to disability history’s truly longue durée.

Does Sin Cause Disability? Some Medieval Perspectives
Edward Wheatley, Loyola University Chicago
In the Middle Ages Christian teaching remained ambivalent about whether disability resulted from sin. Although the New Testament generally suggested that it did not, some medieval political and religious practices created different perceptions. Rather than attempting to reconcile these ideas, this paper will examine the tensions between them and how they affected the lives of people with disabilities.

Roundtable discussion with morning speakers

Session 2: Disease and the Body in the Renaissance

Chair: Wendy Wall, Northwestern University

Sickening India
Jonathan Gil Harris, George Washington University
Seventeenth-century European travelers to India understood the often debilitating illnesses they contracted there in astonishingly diverse and even contradictory ways: as divine punishment for sin and as the consequence of exposure to torrid climate; as a marker of European difference from India and as a physical transformation into Indianness. The latter suggests a mode of becoming-other that informs the European colonial projects of later centuries yet nonetheless unsettles the certainties of racial identity those projects helped foster.

Lessons from the Body: Shakespeare and the Ethics of Disease
Michael Schoenfeldt, University of Michigan
Disease in Shakespeare is frequently thought to arise from some ethical failure of the sufferer. This paper explores Shakespeare’s profound ambivalence about strong passion, demonstrating how passion becomes at once the occasion of redemption and the source of disease.

Deadly Contacts: Imagining Disease in the New World
Scott Stevens, D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian Studies, The Newberry Library
The visual records of the period of contact and conquest represented the catastrophic onslaught of Old World pathogens in various modes. This paper considers the cultural and political ramifications of this legacy across a number of contemporary discourses, which often confer exculpatory significance on the epidemics that decimated the Americas.

Roundtable discussion with afternoon speakers

Evening Concert

Music Hath Charms: Disease and Disability in Music
The Newberry Consort Early Music Chamber Ensemble

David Douglass, director of the Newberry Consort, along with soprano Ellen Hargis, harpsichordist David Schrader, and viola da gambist Craig Trompeter, presented a special program on how early modern people coped with illness through the power of music, from the depths of melancholy to a comic depiction of a gall bladder operation.

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