HPS Colloquium - Nicole Archambeau


Location: 715 Hesburgh Library

This talk is part of the HPS Colloquium Series

The Spectrum of Healers and Health Care in Late Medieval Provence: From Doctors to DIY Relics in the Care of Body and Soul.

Nicole Archambeau

This essay uses medieval canonization inquests to answer the seemingly simple question: What did people do when they were sick?" My talk shows that answer was often far more complex than traditional research in the history of medicine shows. By sifting through hundreds of narratives of people coping with their own and loved-ones' health care, we find that people used a plurality of available methods and even created new ones (like making their own relics) when needed. We also see that medieval persons’ concepts of health care extended beyond the boundaries of the physical body to include the passions or what contemporaries called “accidents of the soul.” Healers and sufferers saw that sadness, fear, and anxiety could damage physical health and were health problems in their own right.

These testimonies also give us a picture of an era that saw remarkable physical and spiritual hardship as well as profound uncertainty– the relocation of the papacy, repeated mercenary invasions, at least three waves of plague, and the struggle of the Great Schism. All of these events contributed to people’s emotional distress. Sufferers' and healers' strategies of coping and healing give insight into the ways people turn to their faith during times of profound crises.


Nicole Archambeau graduated in 2009 from UCSB and is now an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) New Faculty Fellow. She takes an integrative approach to the history of healing in the later Middle Ages, focusing on medical and spiritual approaches. She is working on a book that explores how sufferers experienced and tried to heal sadness, desperation, and anxiety during the Hundred Years War and the first waves of plague.
Presently based at the California Institute of Technology, she teaches course on Epidemics in the Pre-Modern World, and Medicine, Magic, and Miracle. She has published essays on the miraculous transformation of a mercenary into a penitent and canonization inquest testimonies about early waves of plague.

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