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Books Year : 2020

Leprosy and identity in the Middle Ages: from England to the Mediterranean


The chapters in this volume, by established scholars and early career researchers in the fields of history and archaeology, shed new light on the identities and experiences of people affected by leprosy (Hansen’s disease) in medieval Western Europe. Building on recent research that has challenged the earlier view that people with leprosy were excluded and stigmatised, this book demonstrates the complex and varying status of this illness and its sufferers. The authors provide case studies from Italy, Germany, France and England between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries, with some chapters adding a broader global perspective. The source material includes archival documents, archaeological data, hagiography and artworks. The book makes a new contribution to our understanding of social provision for people with leprosy, with chapters exploring how leprosy hospitals sat at the boundary point between integration and segregation. It also describes how some leprosy sufferers lived outside of institutional settings. The central question of identity enables consideration of how people with leprosy related to each other and the extent to which their lives were transformed by the disease. While leprosy had a significant impact upon social, professional and religious identities, people also retained aspects of their previous identities after developing the disease. Furthermore, the collective identity of leprosy sufferers was shared by certain individuals who were labelled as ‘lepers’ but did not have the disease. The book reveals the cultural as well as social significance of leprosy, a disease with deep metaphorical and spiritual associations. It also demonstrates how people with leprosy exerted their own agency, although their perspectives are usually absent from the sources.
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Dates and versions

hal-02488816 , version 1 (23-02-2020)


  • HAL Id : hal-02488816 , version 1


Elma Brenner, François-Olivier Touati (Dir.). Leprosy and identity in the Middle Ages: from England to the Mediterranean. Manchester University Press, In press, Social Histories of Medicine. ⟨hal-02488816⟩
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