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Special Collection

The Medieval Brain

Collection launched: 19 Sep 2018

This Special Collection explores its central theme of "the medieval brain" from diverse perspectives. It aims to grapple with terminology, investigate medieval source material from new angles, combine unconventional disciplinary approaches, and spark debates around the theme.

The work has emerged out of wider discussions about some of the pressing issues in the medical humanities, such as: 'What is the value of retrospective diagnosis in medieval studies?'; 'What comprises a disability versus an impairment in the Middle Ages?'; 'What should we consider to be "pathological" and what "healthy"?'; 'How did medieval people understand brain structure and brain functioning?'; 'How was mental illness conceptualised, and how were people with mental illnesses treated'; 'How are emotions constructed in medieval texts?'; and 'What insights can cognitive theories give on medieval texts?'. It has grown out of a three-day "The Medieval Brain" conference held at the University of York in March, 2017 and part-funded by the Wellcome Trust, as well as a session at the Kalamazoo International Medieval Congress entitled 'Grey Matter: Brains, Diseases, and Disorders'. These multi-disciplinary meetings invited papers presented by researchers from a variety of different backgrounds. Areas of discussion at both events, which are reflected in this collection, included but were not limited to: mental health; neurology; the history of emotions; disability and impairment; terminology and the brain; retrospective diagnosis and the Middle Ages; the care of the sick; and interdisciplinary practice and the brain.

As we research aspects of the medieval brain, we encounter complications generated by medieval thought and twenty-first century medicine and neurology alike, and this collection explores those complications. Our understanding of modern-day neurology, psychiatry, disability studies, and psychology rests on shifting sands. Not only do we struggle with medieval terminology concerning the brain, but we must connect it with a constantly-moving target of modern understanding - and this collection reflects this.

This Special Collection is edited by Dr Deborah Thorpe of Trinity College Dublin.