dimecres, 24 de març de 2010

Duodecim quodlibet: Interviewing a hospital historian

Interviewing Professor Peregrine Horden...

Dear friends and colleagues. Today we do start a new section on Speculum hospitale which aims to explore what do hospital historians (and other sort of openminded historians from other fields, as well) think about our fascinating discipline in an informal way. Twelve questions (honouring the twelve paupers privileged by a great number of Medieval and Early Modern hospital benefactors) will be put to a very interesting range of historians. Professor Peregrine Horden has been invited to inaugurate the section and has very kindly agreed to do so. Why starting by him? The answer is quite evident: he was the first historian to call 'hospital history' a 'discipline of rellevance', in 1988  (Social History of Medicine, 1 (1988): 359-374. Peregrine (if I may) is professor of Medieval History at Royal Holloway (University of London). Within his interests are: the Social history of early medieval medicine in Europe and Byzantium; the history of the family; Mediterranean studies; environmental history and the theory and philosophy of history. See a selection of his publications at the end of the interview and click on, if you would like to read a recent and most fascinating paper What's wrong with Early Medieval Medicine?. I do hope you enjoy the questions and the answers. Let me say THANK YOU so much to Professor Peregrine Horden for his collaboration and let me hearthily recommend to you all one of his great books on hospitals, his latest one entitled: Hospitals and Healing from Antiquity to the Later Middle Ages (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008).

Further acknowledgement: To Phil Banks for his help reviewing my questions' English style! 


Teresa: How and why did you come across medieval hospitals?
Peregrine: I knew I wanted to research on some aspect of medieval social history, and at Cambridge, where I started a PhD, my supervisor, Walter Ullmann, gave me his article on the ‘public welfare’ provision of the early medieval councils. It grew from there!

Teresa: You do point out usually the extent to which your (always sceptical, I know!) gaze at hospitals has been much influenced by social anthropology. My tricky question would be: The connection between anthropology and medieval hospital history lies in the idea/tool of mentalities (please do correct me if I am not right). If so, what about the fact of mentalities having changed since medieval times: is the connection still useful? Why?
Peregrine: I use social anthropology more to help me understand cultures of healing past and present, rather than hospitals specifically. It is not a question of establishing continuities over time so much as of enlarging the range of possibilities with which I am – from my armchair! – familiar. I wish we did have a full anthropological study of modern hospital life, perhaps from the developing world, but I have yet to find it.

Teresa: I hate the word ‘model’ but let me ask you, just in case… Is there a ‘medieval hospital model’?
Peregrine: Not for me: they vary too much over time: those of the twelfth century in Europe are not the same as the fifteenth, the latter with their elaborate liturgical life.

Teresa: Once I heard an Early Modernist saying that the only things that are worth ‘historicising’ are: economy, political institutions, the ‘high’ culture, and the foreign relationships. The rest, according to him, and especially ‘daily life’ - for instance - was just like fashion, that is something that goes down and up and leaves. What do you think a hospitals historian - you, for instance - would have liked to answer?
Peregrine: Fashion has its serious history, just like the hospital. Changes in both require searching explanation. That early modernist is an idiot.

Teresa: Hospitals and the Mediterranean: James Brodman, in his book ‘Charity and the poor in Medieval Catalonia’, points to the fact of the lack of hospitals studies in the Iberian peninsula and the extent to which the Italian or French interpretations have exerted a most influential impact, perhaps a too influential impact. As an expert on the history of the Mediterranean, what kind of old or new issues do you think Iberian hospitals, rather than the above mentioned, could better illuminate, if any?
Peregrine: Perhaps the influence (or lack of influence) of Islamic foundations, the chronology of these ‘fashions’ in hospital foundation, the role of the state, the military orders, the Counter-Reformation … the list is endless. On all these we need an Iberian perspective!

Teresa: Medieval hospitals + late medieval consolidation processes = the ‘new General Hospital’: can we truly speak of a rationale? If so, which are its main targets not yet explored?
Peregrine: We need a substitute for ‘the great confinement' – indeed a substitute for Foucault tout court – but not another simplistic formulation. I am not yet sure what should be put in its place.

Teresa: After the Variorum compilation of your work on hospitals: what is your next study on hospitals about or what would you like to do go next?
Peregrine: I am still writing a worldwide comparaive study of hospitals up to c. 1100 CE!

Teresa: Rituals of public-health and the Western city: I loved your paper on public-health and the city in the High Middle Ages and your ‘use’ of hospitals. And what about rituals inside medieval hospitals? What can they tell us about cities’ public health strategies?
Peregrine: Thank you! I hadn’t thought of hospital rituals in that way but the liturgical or sacramental ones from the later Middle Ages could be seen as microcosms of collective public health measures. As I’ve argued, there is more to public health history than cesspits and cemeteries.

Teresa: A difficult question: What is the most fascinating paper/book on hospitals have you ever read?
Peregrine: I have always admired the articles and books of Carole Rawcliffe and John Henderson and most of my ideas are stolen from them.

Teresa: Hospitals and landscape: What do you think hospitals can tell us about history of landscape? Is this a question that can only able to be addressed to rural hospitals?
Peregrine: No, I think hospitals can profoundly alter the urban landscape – or be thought to do so. Look at the cover of The Impact of Hospitals. I don’t feel historians have given enough attention to this. A theme for another INHH conference?!

Teresa: A question on comparative Hospital History: What would it be worth to comparing, in your own, between hospitals? Where are the limits of comparing?
Peregrine: I think there are no inherent limitations. I have for instance been fascinated to compare the similar chronology of hospital foundations in twelfth-century Europe and Cambodia.

Teresa: Where is the future of Hospital History? Where should it go next?
Peregrine: Ad fontes! We need many more archival studies of a quite traditional kind as well as renewed exploration of the political, economic, religious and topographical contexts.


Hospitals and Healing from Antiquity to the Later Middle Ages (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008).

(ed. with John Henderson and Alessandro Pastore), The Impact of Hospitals 300-2000 (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2007)

(ed.), Music as Medicine: The History of Music Therapy since Antiquity (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000).

(co-author Nicholas Purcell), The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History (Oxford: Blackwell's, 2000).

(co-editor, with Emilie Savage-Smith) The Year 1000: Medical Practice at the End of the First Millennium, special issue of Social History of Medicine, 13.2 (August 2000).