Humanities scholars study health, disease in the Middle Ages

December 1, 2011

What do the 2012 summer Olympics and medieval scholarship have in common? For both, London will be the site of extraordinary achievements.

Monica Green, professor in ASU's School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, and Rachel Scott, assistant professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, have been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to co-direct “Health and Disease in the Middle Ages,” a five-week seminar for 16 U.S. scholars. Both are affiliated faculty of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (ACMRS). Download Full Image

The seminar will be based at London’s Wellcome Library, the world’s premier research center for medical history. The applicants (including two advanced graduate students) will be chosen in a national competition based on their interest in questions of health, disease and disability in medieval Europe and the Mediterranean, and will come from a variety of academic disciplines. They will receive stipends to support travel and living expenses from a total budget of $167,757.

A general goal of the group will be to combine the new scientific technologies for identifying pathogens and disease states, particularly leprosy and plague, with a traditional humanistic perspective. For example, historical, literary, art historical, and linguistic evidence describing diseases (such as the Black Death) and disabilities (such as leprosy) can be examined in light of modern scientific studies of them, thanks to new methods of bioarcheology and ancient DNA retrieval and analysis.  

Humanistic studies of medieval medicine and health practices will be compared with these scientific findings to explore the relations between religion, economics and medicine in the medieval interpretation and treatment of disease. Study of the material evidence (from architecture, medicinal plants and skeletal remains) of medieval medicine, particularly balneotherapy (warm mineral-water bathing) and botanical pharmaceutics, will be the special focus of the seminar along with learned and artistic interpretations. 

Site visits to locales in and around London, such as the Museum of London, the Chelsea Physic Garden, and the Roman bath complex in the city of Bath, will provide the participants an opportunity to study these material remains personally.

The co-directors are specialists in the fields of medical history and bioarcheology, respectively, and they will be assisted by three expert guest lecturers: Ann Carmichael (Indiana University), Luke Demaitre (University of Virginia), and Florence Eliza Glaze (Coastal Carolina University). The seminar directors and guest scholars will assist participants with their independent research projects relating to the History of Medicine, especially those based on unpublished primary sources.  

The seminar will mark the second time Green, a world-renowned specialist in medical history, who was recently elected to the Fellows of the Medieval Academy of America, has directed an NEH Summer Seminar in London, the last one being in 2009 (see a report in the Medieval Academy Newsletter) with ACMRS serving as the seminar’s administrative home for both.  

ACMRS is one of the leading academic centers in the U.S. promoting research of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The 2012 NEH grant represents one of the largest projects awarded to the center.

More information about this year’s seminar may be found at

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist, ASU Library

News21 food safety series now available as e-book

December 1, 2011

A major national investigation into food safety in America is now available in e-book form.

The series “How Safe Is Your Food?” was produced by student journalists from five universities participating in the national Carnegie-Knight News21 program. Twenty-seven fellows from Arizona State University, Harvard University, the University of Maryland, the University of Missouri and the University of Nebraska produced stories, graphics, photos and videos examining food safety issues in the United States. Download Full Image

The project details the widespread incidence and many causes of foodborne illness in the country and shows how a combination of industry practices and gaps in government oversight leave consumers vulnerable. Major portions of the series were published by the Washington Post and The entire project is available on the News21 website.

The e-book version of the project, published in e-pub and Kindle format, is optimized for long-form reading and viewing on a tablet or e-reader device. Readers can annotate and bookmark the publication for their convenience and reference.

The e-publication currently is available for download on the News21 national website. It will soon be available on Amazon for the Kindle reader and in Apple’s iBookstore for iPads and iPhones.  

Last year, News21 fellows conducted a major investigation into transportation safety in the United States that is also available in e-book format. The project was a finalist in the Online News Association investigative reporting contest in the professional category.

News21 is a program of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to encourage excellence and innovation in the teaching of college journalism. The program is headquartered at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Carnegie and Knight recently renewed their commitment to News21 with $2.32 million in grants over the next 10 years. The next generation of the program will be modeled after the past two years’ multi-university investigative projects and will be open to students from any accredited journalism school in the United States. It will be based at the Cronkite School and directed by William K. Marimow, former top editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Baltimore Sun and National Public Radio.

Reporter , ASU News