< April 2023 >
27 28 29 30 31 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Postgraduate Advanced Training Seminar: Interpreting Historical Medical Texts

A one-day study day

zodiac man (PATS
DATE: September 24, 2013,
TIME: 8.45am - 5pm
VENUE: Seminar Room 218, Fisher Library, University of Sydney, NSW 2006

Disease and psychological afflictions are not simply medical issues but have always had repercussions throughout social, cultural, political, religious, and intellectual spheres. This Postgraduate Advanced Training Seminar is designed to help students develop skills at placing medieval and early modern medical texts within these broader contexts. Instructors from English, History, Medieval Studies and Philosophy will conduct focused workshops on a small number of historical medical texts, which students can access beforehand. The evolving and often contested nature of medical practice sees that historical medical texts are open to various readings that cross disciplinary boundaries. Inter-disciplinary and methodological, this seminar will benefit students interested in extending the scope of their research into neighbouring fields.

PLEASE NOTE, there are only a few places remaining. Please apply ASAP if you wish to attend. Especially if you are applying for a bursary.




9.00 Workshop 1
10.30 Morning tea
11.00 Workshop 2
12.30 Lunch
1.30 Exhibition Talk / 'Down Time' 
2.30 Afternoon tea
3.00 Workshop 3
4.30 Close


There is no cost for this PATS, places are limited however to ensure the workshops are focused. Lunch and refreshments will be provided, please advise of any dietary requirements when applying.


Bursaries of up to $500 are available for students from outside the Sydney area. If you are intending to apply for a bursary please submit an application form plus a short academic reference before 27 August 2013.


Each workshop will focus on a short text, or selections from a text. Further background reading is also included. Texts can be accessed online (see below), otherwise please email gabriel.watts@sydney.edu.au to arrange access.

Workshop 1:

Reading: 'Treatise on Melancholie' Timothy Bright, 1586 (pp. 1-54)

Instructor: Dr Rhodri Lewis (English)

"Of all other practise of phisick, that parte most commendeth the excellency of the noble facultie, which not only releeveth the bodily infirmity, but after a sort even also correcteth the infirmities of the mind ... I have layd open howe the bodie, and corporall things affect the soule, & how the body is affected of it againe".

Thus the doctor and clergyman, Timothy Bright, at the beginning of his 'Treatise of Melancholie' (1586), a work in which he summarised, adapted, and brought up-to-date the theory of melancholic humours on which much Galenic medicine (and early modern medical teaching) was based. Bright outlines a pre-Cartesian world in which body and soul are bound together and affect one another, and in which "sin" (conceived of in explicitly religious terms) can have malignant consquences in both.

Workshop 2:

Reading: ‘A Disease Called the Suffocation of the Mother’ Edward Jorden, 1603 (also here)

Instructors: Dr Ursula Potter (English) and Dr Judith Bonzol (History)

this disease doth oftentimes give occasion unto simple and unlearned people, to suspect possession, witch-craft, or some such supernatural cause

Against the background of a widespread belief in witchcraft and concern at the increasing prevalence of exorcisms, London physician Edward Jorden’s diagnosis of the disease called ‘the suffocation of the mother’ (or ‘hysteria’) was the first to publicly attribute its symptoms to natural causes as opposed to supernatural powers. Not simply a medical report, Jorden's text constituted a broadside against Puritan religious beliefs.

Further Background Reading: Wear, Andrew, ‘Review: Michael MacDonald (ed. and intro.) Witchcraft and Hysteria in Elizabethan London, Edward Jorden and the Mary Glover Case’, History of Psychiatry 1992 3: 531

Workshop 3:

Reading: Correspondence between Rene Descartes and Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, 1643-1649 (Letters 18 May 1645 - 1 September 1645 inclusive; Bennett pp.13-26 (linked above); Shapiro pp. 85-107 (preview here)

Instructor: Dr Anik Waldow (Philosophy)

I assure you that the doctors, who saw me everyday and examined all the symptoms of my illness, did not in doing find its cause, or order such helpful remedies, as you have done from afar.” Elizabeth to Descartes, 24 May 1645

Originating as a discussion of physics and geometry, the correspondence between Princess Elizabeth and Rene Descartes turns to the causes of the passions after Descartes diagnoses Elizabeth’s persistent ‘low-grade fever’ as ‘sadness’. As the philosopher who famously split mind from body suggests quasi-Stoic remedies, Elizabeth remains skeptical, questioning the capacity of the will to master the passions.