When thinking of the past, one of the hardest things is to imagine what it would have been like to inhabit a physical body in a world so different in look, smell, and feel from our own. What was it like to go to the doctor 800 years ago? If you cut your finger and bled, what would that blood mean to you? What about the blood of saints—would that be different? What about exercising, eating, giving birth, having sex, burying the dead? The way we think about these experiences fundamentally changes how we experience them. So how has our thinking changed since the Middle Ages? Jack Hartnell’s new book, Medieval Bodies, explores the answers to these questions through a series of vivid objects, stories, texts, and paintings, starting with the head and meandering through skin and heart and stomach all the way to the feet. Along the way, he constructs a living, breathing body of evidence that helps us understand our physical past.
Go beyond the episode:
- Jack Hartnell’s Medieval Bodies: Life and Death in the Middle Ages (read an excerpt here)
- For more on medieval women’s medicine, check out Monica Green’s Making Women’s Medicine Masculine or her paper, “Gendering the History of Women’s Healthcare”
- For another unusual angle of medieval history, check out our interview with Marion Turner, who wrote an innovative biography of Geoffrey Chaucer
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