Medieval monkey doctor

Conceiving Histories at Birkbeck Arts Week

Come and see our work in progress on the Conceiving Histories project, which looks at the history of un-pregnancy (trying to conceive, the difficulty of diagnosing early pregnancy and reproductive disappointment).

WEDNESDAY 17th MAY 2017, 6-7.30pm. Keynes Library, 43 Gordon Square. FREE. ALL WELCOME. Book a place here.

We will be talking about pregnancy diagnosis today and in the past. How did people in the past imagine and anticipate the future of pregnancy diagnosis? For all our technological advancement, in what ways does our experience of trying to diagnose early pregnancy resemble that of people in the past?

Here is one assessment from Giralamo Mercurio in the fifteenth century, which didn’t quite predict the future:

As to the signs that some people think they see in the urine, this is such a false lie that it belongs more to charlatans than to physicians because the moon has more to do with shrimp than with urine in showing whether or not a woman is pregnant.[1]

How reasonable he sounds but, it turns out, how wrong. Of course Mercurio was arguing against those who thought that urine was key to pregnancy diagnosis, who imagined the future that we now inhabit. Come and hear more about a curious history which is strangely more connected with our world today than is always thought.

We’ll be looking at some new art work from Anna Burel which focuses on the bizarre Xenopus frog pregnancy test, used in the twentieth century. Here is an example:

Frog Work, © 2017
Frog Work, © Anna Burel 2017

There are also lots of other interesting events at Birkbeck Arts Week. They are all free and everyone is welcome. Find out more and book your place here.


Featured image at the top of this page: monkey doctor and a stork, Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum MS 298, folio 81r

[1] Girolamo Mercurio, cited in Rudolf Bell, How to do it: Guides to Good Living for Renaissance Italians (pp. 71-72).

 

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