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IMC 2019: Sessions

Session 1111: Bodies and Body Parts in the Middle Ages

Wednesday 3 July 2019, 11.15-12.45

Moderator/Chair:Fiona Harris-Stoertz, Department of History, Trent University, Ontario
Paper 1111-aThe Breslauer Arzneibuch: Good for Whatever Ails You, from Warts to Wandering Wombs
(Language: English)
Philip Liston-Kraft, Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures, Harvard University
Index terms: Language and Literature - German, Medicine, Science, Sexuality
Paper 1111-bThe Human Body Commodified: Exchange of Bodily Objects in Maeren and Fabliaux
(Language: English)
Emma Beddall, Somerville College, University of Oxford
Index terms: Language and Literature - Comparative, Language and Literature - French or Occitan, Language and Literature - German, Sexuality
Paper 1111-cThe Female Production of Knowledge versus a New Episteme
(Language: English)
Baylee Staufenbiel, Department of History, University of Wyoming
Index terms: Daily Life, Gender Studies, Medicine, Women's Studies

Paper -a:
The Breslauer Arzneibuch, dating from the early 1300's, is one of several medieval German texts that codified contemporary medical knowledge. Drawing from Salernitan sources, this beautifully appointed manuscript addressed the diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of all manner of human diseases a capite ad calcem. Based in humoral theory, the Arzneibuch offered cures for everything from halitosis to hematuria. It perpetuated myths about women that had long since been dismissed. What the exact function was of this peculiar book remains a matter of conjecture: it may have been meant as a reference book for practitioners, or perhaps the mere possession of or access to this lavish manuscript was thought to invest its user with talismanic power.

Paper -b:
Exchanges of objects between characters are highly significant in medieval literature, demonstrative of the complex web of social relationships. While the objects often attest to the wealth and status of giver and recipient, their symbolic value is usually far greater. This paper will analyse the exchange of items within the maeren and the fabliaux, particularly intriguing given that goods made from human body parts abound, from scrotal purses to dice made from teeth. The human body is commodified, whether for love or revenge. Meanwhile, female virginity is portrayed as a transferable physical object, regularly assuming the form of an animal.

Paper -c:
This paper examines the role of midwives in the Middle Ages. Specifically, it looks at midwives' education, skills, practices, social regard, overall knowledge of the female body, and how this knowledge contributed to understanding the anatomy of the uterus. Midwives were an invaluable resource to medieval women because male surgeons traditionally overlooked obstetrics and gynecology due to stigmas related to physically examining female patients. This paper argues that despite the important role that midwives played in obstetrics and gynecology, because medicine was and continued to be a male-dominated field, their knowledge was cast aside as the professionalization of medicine erupted at the end of the Middle Ages.