"‘Why is my pain perpetual?’ (Jer 15:18): Chronic Pain in the Middle Ages" Conference, 29 September 2017

Last Friday, I had the honour to host some of the leading researchers in historical pain studies at a one-day conference. Together, we probed chronic pain in the Middle Ages, breaking new ground as the first ever international, interdisciplinary academic meeting on this topic. Papers showcased the latest research in this area, highlighting the diversity of approaches needed to grapple with the multi-faceted nature of chronic pain.

We came together with some answers, it's true. But mostly, we met to ask questions, and plenty of them - on methodology, on sources, on ethics, on modern relevance, and more - in our collective pursuit of establishing the field. (For the conference's original Call for Papers which lays out the central topics of papers and our informal discussions, see here.) Below, I've posted resources to give a flavour of the meeting, and of our preliminary findings from the conference. You will find:

  • the full conference programme;
  • a Storify of the full live-tweet from the day.

There are several last-minute amendments to the conference programme. Firstly, three speakers sadly could not be with us, one from each panel: Katherine Harvey, Catherine Coffey, and Bianca Frohne. Due to some tech-based shenanigans, we could not have a video livestream. However, as a work-around, all panels and the keynote were recorded as audio files. I will update this page in due course with a full transcript, and - if at all possible - a link to the audio files too. 

The day before the conference, I hosted a #certainpain Twitter chat. Questions revolved around the utility of historical pain studies for people living with chronic pain today. Spoiler alert! I argued hard for the intrinsic worth of such scholarship for the modern chronic pain community:

Representation *matters*. Be that contemporary media representation, political representation, or historical representation. [1] & being able to recognise that you are not alone, isolated in history - but others have come before you & lived is important [2]

The conference demonstrated amply that modern chronic pain sufferers are certainly not 'isolated in history'. In virtually every kind of document we have from the Middle Ages - personal letters, law, theology, romance narratives, hagiography, and so on - we can find traces of chronic pain experiences. Our work is now to bring these traces to greater light.