A history of health? Integrating food and drink into the history of medieval medicine

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By | Early Medicine, Events and Visits

The first seminar in the 2015–16 History of Pre-Modern Medicine seminar series takes place on Tuesday 13th October.

St Elizabeth feeding the sick.

Detail of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary bringing food to the inmates of a hospital. Oil painting by Adam Elsheimer, c. 1598. Iconographic no. 44650i. Wellcome Images L0015276.

Speaker: Dr Iona McCleery (University of Leeds)

A history of health? Integrating food and drink into the history of medieval medicine


The history of food and the history of medicine have largely developed along separate lines. This is particularly the case for the Middle Ages, although there have been some significant studies of food in regimen texts and health principles in cookery books. Recently, there has been new work reinforcing the importance of food provision and regulation for urban public health and hospital care. Bioarchaeologists are surging ahead in the study of nutrition and the skeleton. Yet many aspects of the inter-relationships between diet, illness and health remain rather neglected. Arguing first of all that the history of health is becoming the primary focus of scholarship rather than the history of medicine alone, this paper will explore the wide range of ways in which food and drink can be brought to bear on the study of health and well-being in past populations. There will be an overview of current research and possible future directions. The paper will end with a presentation of how food, drink, illness and recovery interact in medieval miracle narratives.


Wellcome Library, 183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE.

Doors open at 6pm, seminar will start at 6.15pm.

The seminar series is focused on pre-modern medicine, which we take to cover European and non-European history before the 20th century (antiquity, medieval and early modern history, some elements of 19th century medicine).

Further details on the seminar series are available in a previous post.

Ross Macfarlane

Ross Macfarlane is the Research Engagement Officer at the Wellcome Library.

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