Pain is a universal human experience. We have all hurt at some point, felt that inescapable sensory challenge to our physical equanimity, our health and well-being compromised. Typically, our agonies are fleeting. For some, however, suffering becomes an artefact of everyday living: our pain becomes ‘chronic’. Chronic pain is persistent, usually lasting for three months or more, does not respond well to analgesia, and does not improve after the usual healing period of any injury.
Following Elaine Scarry’s (1985) seminal work The Body in Pain, researchers from various humanities disciplines have productively studied pain as a physical phenomenon with wide-ranging emotional and socio-cultural effects. Medievalists have also analysed acute pain, elucidating a specifically medieval construction of physical distress. In almost all such scholarship – modern and medieval – chronic pain has been overlooked.
The new field of medieval disability studies has also neglected chronic pain as a primary object of study. Instead, disability scholars in the main focus on ‘visible’ and ‘mainstream’ disabilities, such as blindness, paralysis, and birth defects. Indeed, disability historian Beth Linker argued in 2013 that ‘[m]ore historical attention should be paid to the unhealthy disabled’, including those in chronic pain (‘On the Borderland’, 526). This conference seeks specifically to pay ‘historical attention’ to chronic pain in the medieval era. It will bring together researchers from across disciplines working on chronic pain, functioning as a collaborative space for medievalists to enter into much-needed conversations on this highly overlooked area of scholarship.
Prof Esther Cohen (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), one of the foremost scholars on pain in the Middle Ages, will deliver the keynote address at the conference.
Relevant topics for this conference include:
- Medieval conceptions and theories of chronic pain, as witnessed by scientific, medical, and theological works
- Paradigms of chronic pain developed in modern scholarship – and what medievalists can learn from, and contribute to, them
- Comparative analyses of chronic pain in religious versus secular narratives
- Recognition or rejection of chronic pain as an affirmative subjective identity
- Chronic pain and/as disability
- The potential share-ability of pain in medieval narratives, such as texts which show an individual taking on the pain of another
- The relationship between affect and the severity, understanding, and experience of pain
- The manner in which gender impacts the experience, expression, and management of an individual’s chronic pain
If you’re interested in speaking at the conference, please submit an abstract of 250-300 words and a brief bio to the organiser, Alicia Spencer-Hall (a.spencer-hall [at] ucl.ac.uk), by 1 March 2017. Please also stipulate your audio-visual requirements in your submission (e.g. projector, speakers, and so forth).
NB. Speakers will need to register for the conference in due course. The registration fee is £20. The fee is waived completely for concessions (students, the unwaged, retired scholars).
If you have any queries, including access requirements, please do not hesitate to contact the organiser.
This conference contributes to the ‘Sense and Sensation’ research strand at UCL’s Institute of Advanced Studies. This strand also comprises a Reading Group focused on chronic pain. To join the Reading Group, please email the organiser, Alicia Spencer-Hall (a.spencer-hall [at] ucl.ac.uk).
[Updated on 18/01/17, to reflect extended deadline for receipt of abstracts.]