Call for papers – ‘Ecologies of Healing in the Premodern World (600-1350 CE)’

The history of premodern medicine is in rude health. While the increasingly global history of infectious disease is a vital, if sadly topical, development, the last decade or so has also witnessed innovative advances in our understanding of public health, hospital histories, patienthood and patient experiences, clinical encounters, exchange of medicinal information and substances, and gendered boundaries of medical knowledge and healthcare work. Scholars have progressively discarded older hermeneutic hierarchies that privileged medicine in its canonical and institutionalized forms, and increasingly identified and scrutinised the diverse knowledge communities, practitioners and healing practices out of which healthcare in premodern societies was constituted. The boundaries between medicine and religion or magic, and between science and culture, have been productively redrawn or otherwise blurred. From drug therapies in miracle accounts to the adoption of ritual practice or divinatory devices by learned practitioners, distinct healing practices are no longer sidelined as inferior adjuncts to medicine proper. It is becoming intelligible to conceive of learned medicine as a species of healing.

Yet, how these diverse pieces can be assembled into a cohesive picture of medicine, health and healing within, let alone across, societies before c.1350 remains to be worked out. Ecologies of Healing invites scholars working on premodern Asian, African and European societies to do just that. The conference’s key goal is to piece together how interactions and demarcations between ideas, practices, practitioners, materials and settings of healing ultimately coalesced within the medical ecosystems of premodern societies. Ecologies of Healing also seeks to sharpen our chronologies by paying attention to how and why medical ecosystems have changed or stayed the same over time, and to promote further the global history of premodern medicine by exploring cross-cultural connections and comparisons between the medical ecosystems characteristic of distinct premodern societies.

We welcome papers on premodern health, medicine and healing, including in the following areas:

  • Medical epistemologies and knowledge communities; (re)constructions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ knowledge and practice
  • Practical repercussions, and limitations of, learned medicine
  • Competing, converging and coexisting practices of healing and healthcare work, including through patient as well as practitioner perspectives
  • Economies of healing and the social settings of medicine, including the significance of environment, urban/rural geographies and domestic healthcare
  • Roles of cross-cultural interactions and knowledge transfer in shaping practices of medicine
  • Stratified healing, including the impact of wealth, status, ethnicity, religious affiliation and gender on participation in knowledge communities and access to healing
  • Interfaces between animal and human healthcare

Keynote speaker:

Anthony Cerulli, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Confirmed speakers:

Carmen Caballero Navas, University of Granada

Asaf Goldschmidt, Tel Aviv University

Ahmed Ragab, Williams College

Richard Sowerby, University of Edinburgh

Sethina Watson, University of York

Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim, Goldsmiths, University of London

The dates are preliminary and we will be able to confirm the final dates once we know more about the likely picture of the pandemic in 2022. Our aim is to hold a face-to-face event and we would cover the costs of three nights’ accommodation in Edinburgh. All papers will be pre-circulated among participants two months in advance of the conference, where each speaker will give a shorter presentation (around 15 minutes) outlining the paper’s key contentions followed by responses and open discussion. We are looking for papers dealing with original and previously unpublished material because our aim is that, ultimately, extended versions of the papers will form a peer-reviewed edited volume, Ecologies of Healing in the Premodern World. The final version of the papers in the volume will not exceed 10,000 words including footnotes.

Scholars are invited to submit abstracts of ca. 300 words to and by 31 August 2021.