This week a group of almost 60 scholars from all over the world met in the School of Arts, English and Drama for a conference exploring aspects of women’ s health and wellbeing in early modern England (c. 1500-1780). The conference provided a space where scholars from various academic disciplines could meet to explore the complex interrelationship between psychological, corporeal, spiritual, and emotional aspects of early modern women’s lives. As well as questioning the relationship between body, mind, soul, and gender, exploring the history of medicine and health helps us examine our own cultural assumptions about what constitutes ‘good’ healthcare, and to think critically about what we mean when talking about issues such as medicine, health, and wellbeing in relation to individual subjective experience.
Professor Mary Fissell (Johns Hopkins) gave a lecture on the history of a guide to reproduction called Aristotle’s Masterpiece which was published in 1684 but was reissued at a rate of almost one new edition per year for 250 years. The book was still widely available in bookstores in England in the 1930s. She has found evidence that the book was passed down the female lines in families, showing the importance of this anonymously authored small book for women’s sense of their reproductive health. As part of the conference, a public lecture was given by historian and novelist Alison Weir to a packed audience in the Martin Hall theatre. The lecture explored the Royal birthing chamber at the Tudor court and the pressure on queens to produce heirs.
The conference was organised by lecturers in English, Drs Rachel Adcock, Sara Read and Anna Ziomek to coincide with the release of their anthology based on the conference themes, and called Flesh and Spirit: An Anthology of Seventeenth-century Women’s Writing (Manchester University Press, 2014).
A Storify has been made from all the Conference tweets : you can find it at this link.