Medieval Burns – a neglected topic?

Burns are a curiously elusive topic for research in medieval studies, yet burns to the face and hands must have been fairly ubiquitous in a medieval society which interacted daily (and nightly) with naked flames. Fire was a domestic fixture, and scalds from hot liquids compounded the danger of injury. In a new book chapter in a volume on Medieval Trauma, Trish Skinner explores the possibilities of reconstructing burn injuries in medieval sources. Read it Open Access here.


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New Publication! Approaching Facial Difference: Past and Present

The blog may have been a little quiet, but we have by no means been idle! We are thrilled to announce the release of our first major Effaced team publication: Approaching Facial Difference: Past and Present (Bloomsbury 2018). This is also the first volume in the Bloomsbury Facialities series edited by a number of the Effaced team, who are always on the lookout for proposals.

The volume has its origins in our 2016 conference, Effaced from History? Facial Difference and its Representation from Antiquity to the Present Day. It is edited by Patricia Skinner and Emily Cock, and features the following stellar (if we say so ourselves) lineup. Follow the links to read the chapter abstracts.

1. Introduction: Situating the Different Face, Patricia Skinner (Swansea University, UK) and Emily Cock (Cardiff University, UK)

Part 1: Language
2. Dis/enabling Courtesy and Chivalry in the Middle English and Early Modern Gawain Romances and Ballads, Bonnie Millar (University of Nottingham, UK)
3. ‘A Great Blemish to her Beauty’: Female Facial Disfigurement in Early Modern England, Michelle Webb (University of Exeter, UK)
4. Does Talking about Disfigurement Risk Perpetuating Stigma? Jane Frances (Changing Faces, UK)

Part 2: Visibility
5. Hair Loss as Facial Disfigurement in Ancient Rome? Jane Draycott (University of Glasgow, UK)
6. Portrait? Likeness? Composite? Facial Difference in Forensic Art, Kathryn Smith (Liverpool John Moores University, UK)
7. From ‘Staring’ to ‘Not Caring’: Development of Psychological Growth and Wellbeing among Adults with Cleft Lip and Palate, Patricia Neville (University of Bristol, UK), Andrea Waylen (University of Bristol, UK), Sara Ryan (University of Oxford, UK) and Aidan Searle (University of Bristol, UK)
8. Making Up the Female Face: Pain and Imagination in the Music Videos of CocoRosie, Morna Laing (University of the Arts, London, UK)

Part 3: Materiality
9. Archaeological Facial Depiction for People from the Past with Facial Differences, Caroline Wilkinson (Liverpool John Moores University, UK)
10. “Trotule (Trotula) Puts Many Things on to Decorate and Embellish the Face but I Intend Solely to Remove Infection”: L’Abbe Poutrel and his Chirurgerie c.1300, Theresa Tyers (Swansea University, UK)
11. Disrupting Our Sense of the Past: Medical Photographs that Push Interpreters to the Limits of Historical Analysis, Jason Bate (University of Exeter, UK)

We also love the cover– our thanks to the Bloomsbury team.

Approaching Faccial Difference cover

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Call the Midwife: Topical Episode

Nice to have a chance to catch up on last week’s Call the Midwife (available on BBC iPlayer for the next month), which features a character with significant facial scarring.

Some spoilers ahead.

CtM smallpox

One of the major plot lines focuses on a sailor named Ade Babayaro (played by Jordan Peters) who arrives in Poplar hiding his face (above), and who in shivering and praying in a bed in the Seamen’s Mission is evidently unwell. When another man uncovers his face, the sailor is shown with marks that appear to be smallpox. The news, and resulting panic about the infectious disease, spread through the district. As people recoil and in other cases harass him, we are reminded about the stigmatised nature of smallpox. People clamouring in the Turners’ medical practice for vaccination also remind us that the disease was not only disfiguring, but could be fatal.

Ultimately, the disease is found to be a significantly less infectious form of leprosy instead, and thus the community panic can subside. The deeply religious Ade is not entirely relieved by this, since leprosy is also a disease with a long history of stigmatisation. It is through a theological discussion with Sister Monica Joan (including citation of Mark 1:40–“There came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, ‘If thou wilt, thou can make me clean.'”) that he is ultimately reconciled to his condition and treatment.

When Sister Julienne announces that Ade is being admitted to a hospital for treatment, there is a telling exchange between the midwives that distinguishes their differing perceptions of ‘recovery’ in the case of a disfiguring disease.

Nurse Anderson asks if Ade will make a “full recovery”, which Sister Winifred then qualifies with “Or will he always be marked?” Her distinction between recovery and marking, signalled in her concerned–even judgemental–expression and the telling ‘Or‘, are indicative of the extent to which she, at least, does not think he will ever fully ‘recover’ if he retains the scars caused by his disease. Sister Julienne’s response continues to carry this distinction, as she answers that “The scarring is unknown. But in time, Ade will eventually be cured.” Again, the ‘curing’ of the disease is distinguished from a sense of full recovery if by that is meant no longer carrying scars of the illness. A brief conversation, but a telling one in terms of the women’s thoughts on facial disfigurement.

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‘The All-Seeing Eye’: Registration now open

Registration and the full program for The All-Seeing Eye: Vision and Eyesight Across Time and Cultures Workshop on April 11 is now available. The program is hosted by some friends and members of the Effaced team at Swansea University, David M. Turner and Gemma Almond. We will be looking forward to hearing from the fantastic speakers.

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CFP Portraiture: an Interdisciplinary Conference

A relevant call for papers for those interested in faces:

Portraiture: an Interdisciplinary Conference

This will be hosted by the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture at the University of Durham, 13-15 July 2018. The CFP specifies that:

Proposals may deal with any period and location. Papers are especially welcome that explore the interdisciplinary potential of studying portraiture and that address the following themes:

The ways portraits create, sustain and comment on occupational identity

Portraits and/in institutions

‘Portrait’ as an idea and its metaphorical dimensions

Portraits where the face is not present

Portraiture in the North East of the UK

Comparative approaches to portraiture, which might focus on place, time, occupation, race, social status and/or gender, for example.

The full call for papers is available here. Contact for more information about this event.

CFP closes 1 March 2018.

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Conference Report: The Porous Body in Early Modern Europe

A belated report on The Porous Body in Medieval Europe. Trish and Emily had the pleasure of attending the first conference for the Renaissance Skin project led by Professor Evelyn Welch at King’s College London. The conference aimed “to consider the porousness of the early modern body as physiologically, emotionally, and socially constituted, depicted in art, debated in print and played out in a dizzying array of social practices”. The face, as the most exposed part of the skin in everyday life, unsurprisingly made several appearances.

Jemma Field (Brunel University) and Erin Griffey (University of Auckland) discussed the skincare regimes of queens Anna of Denmark and Henrietta Maria, respectively, drawing attention to the wide range of cosmetic and reparative recipes their used on their faces, along with protective measures such as veils, masks and hats. Giffey also drew attention to a profile portrait of the queen painted by van Dyck in 1638–the same period in which her physician, Sir Theodore de Mayerne, records treating a rash on her right cheek. Van Dyck records significant trouble in getting Henrietta Maria to sit at this time, leading Giffey to suggest that she may indeed have been putting him off until her temporary disfigurement had subsided. Along with the third paper in their panel, from Romana Sammern (University of Salzburg), these presentations provided ample material to stress the importance of the female face and the efforts put in to maintain beauty.

During the discussion following this panel it was noted that the historians of skin were often thwarted by a lack of first-hand accounts of skin problems. This was especially true of ‘everyday’ routines and occurrences, which no one thought to write down in their letters, diaries etc. As an example, Welch remarked on the absence of records for teenage acne. Does this suggest that teenagers in early modern Europe did not actually experience the same level of acne as now? Or that it was so ubiquitous that it was not worth mentioning, and became invisible? Or…? (Oh for a renaissance Adrian Mole, I thought!).

The management of hair was another area that overlapped with some of the Effaced team’s interests. Kathryn Woods (University of Warwick) traced changing conceptions of hair and the extent to which it formed ‘part’ of the body, including the relationship of such ideas to the acceptability of wigs made from another person’s hair. Meanwhile Alun Withey (University of Exeter) outlined some of the many ‘technologies of the body’ employed by eighteenth-century people to shape their bodies and especially their faces into socially acceptable forms.

The Renaissance Skin team are only one year into their Wellcome Trust funding, so we look forward to following their progress.

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University of Exeter event: ‘Disfigured Faces: Modern and Early Modern’

Two members of the Effaced team will be presenting this Wednesday, 6 December, as part of the University of Exeter’s Centre for Medical History seminar series.

Disfigured Faces: Modern and Early Modern, presented by Dr Suzannah Biernoff (Birkbeck) and Dr Michelle Webb (Exeter). 1- 3pm, Digital Humanities Seminar Room 2. 

The abstracts are included below, and the poster is available here.

Dr Suzannah Biernoff (Birkbeck), ‘Facelessness in Georges Franju’s Les yeux sans visage‘.

The first facial transplant, using a donor’s nose, chin and mouth, was performed on Isabelle Dinoire in France in 2005, but the idea of removing or replacing the face – either with a mask, or a living face – has been around for much longer. This paper begins to map the cultural ‘pre-history’ of the face transplant, focusing on the idea and image of facelessness in Georges Franju’s classic horror film Les yeux sans visage (1959). Franju’s film sits uneasily within the academic history of plastic surgery, but as a cultural text it reveals a great deal about popular perceptions of disfigurement and experimental surgery – and the intimate relationship between disgust, horror and visual pleasure.

Suzannah Biernoff is Senior Lecturer in Visual Culture in the Department of History of Art at Birkbeck, University of London and co-director of Birkbeck’s Medical Humanities Research Group. Her research has spanned medieval and modern periods: she is the author of Sight and Embodiment in the Middle Ages (Palgrave, 2002), while her recent publications pursue the themes of corporeal history and visual anxiety in the context of First World War Britain. In 2007 she was awarded a Wellcome Trust Research Leave Award for a project on the cultural history of disfigurement. Open access articles from this project have been published in the journals Visual Culture in Britain, Social History of Medicine and Photographies, and an essay on Nina Berman’s Marine Wedding appeared in the edited volume Ugliness: The Non-beautiful in Art and Theory. Her latest book, Portraits of Violence: War and the Aesthetics of Disfigurement, was published by the University of Michigan Press earlier this year in their Corporealities: Discourses of Disability series.


Dr Michelle Webb, ‘A Noseless Man named Thomas Ford’: Facial Disfigurement in Early Modern England’.

In October 1639 Richard Boyle, First Earl of Cork, recorded in his diary the details of the latest improvements to his house in Dorset: ‘I gaue 40li in part of 50li to haue a bowling green made me at Stalbridge, by a noseles man, named Thomas ford’. In his diary for that year, Boyle detailed his interactions with several hundred individuals, including men, women, close family members, near strangers, the King, the Queen, and a ‘poor ragged boye’ who was to be taken on as an apprentice cook.  Of this great multitude, he mentioned the physical appearance of only one person – Thomas Ford.

This paper will explore the experience of, and reactions to, facial difference in early modern England. What was it like to be, to encounter, or to treat ‘a noseles man’ like Thomas Ford? Would a noseless woman have been written about in the same way? And were there non-visual implications of a missing nose that contributed to the stigmatization of individuals such as Thomas Ford? This paper will argue that issues relating to gender and to the emotions are central to the study of facial disfigurement.

Michelle Webb has recently completed an AHRC funded PhD in Medical History at the University of Exeter, researching facial disfigurement in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. She is currently teaching at Exeter and planning a new project on early modern medicine and the emotions.

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