School of History, Classics & Archaeology

Conference - 'Ecologies of Healing in the Premodern World (600-1350 CE)'

HCA Arabic scholars surround a doctor treating a patient

The history of premodern medicine is in rude health

While the increasingly global history of infectious disease is a vital, if sadly topical, development, the last decade or so has also witnessed innovative advances in our understanding of public health, hospital histories, patienthood and patient experiences, clinical encounters, exchange of medicinal information and substances, and gendered boundaries of medical knowledge and healthcare work. Scholars have progressively discarded older hermeneutic hierarchies that privileged medicine in its canonical and institutionalized forms, and increasingly identified and scrutinised the diverse knowledge communities, practitioners and healing practices out of which healthcare in premodern societies was constituted. The boundaries between medicine and religion or magic, and between science and culture, have been productively redrawn or otherwise blurred. From drug therapies in miracle accounts to the adoption of ritual practice or divinatory devices by learned practitioners, distinct healing practices are no longer sidelined as inferior adjuncts to medicine proper. It is becoming intelligible to conceive of learned medicine as a species of healing.   

Yet, how these diverse pieces can be assembled into a cohesive picture of medicine, health and healing within, let alone across, societies before c.1350 remains to be worked out. Ecologies of Healing invites scholars working on premodern Asian, African and European societies to do just that. The conference’s key goal is to piece together how interactions and demarcations between ideas, practices, practitioners, materials and settings of healing ultimately coalesced within the medical ecosystems of premodern societies. Ecologies of Healing also seeks to sharpen our chronologies by paying attention to how and why medical ecosystems have changed or stayed the same over time, and to promote further the global history of premodern medicine by exploring cross-cultural connections and comparisons between the medical ecosystems characteristic of distinct premodern societies.  

Talks will focus on premodern health, medicine and healing, including the following areas:

  • Medical epistemologies and knowledge communities; (re)constructions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ knowledge and practice 
  • Practical repercussions, and limitations of, learned medicine 
  • Competing, converging and coexisting practices of healing and healthcare work, including through patient as well as practitioner perspectives 
  • Economies of healing and the social settings of medicine, including the significance of environment, urban/rural geographies and domestic healthcare 
  • Roles of cross-cultural interactions and knowledge transfer in shaping practices of medicine 
  • Stratified healing, including the impact of wealth, status, ethnicity, religious affiliation and gender on participation in knowledge communities and access to healing 
  • Interfaces between animal and human healthcare 
HCA Wellcome logo

Keynote speaker: 

  • Anthony Cerulli, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Confirmed speakers: 

  • Winston Black, St. Francis Xavier University
  • Petros Bouras-Vallianatos, University of Edinburgh
  • Claire Burridge, University of Sheffield
  • Carmen Caballero Navas, University of Granada
  • Naama Cohen-Hanegbi, Tel Aviv University
  • Manuel Giardino, University of Cambridge
  • Asaf Goldschmidt, Tel Aviv University
  • Sunny Harrison, Open University
  • Lennart Lehmhaus, University of Tübingen
  • Iona McCleery, University of Leeds
  • Zubin Mistry, University of Edinburgh
  • Stephen Pow, Saint Petersburg State University
  • Ahmed Ragab, Johns Hopkins University
  • Richard Sowerby, University of Edinburgh
  • Sethina Watson, University of York
  • Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim, Goldsmiths, University of London

All papers will be pre-circulated among participants two months in advance of the conference, where each speaker will give a shorter presentation (10-15 minutes) outlining the paper’s key contentions followed by responses and open discussion.


This conference is a face-to-face event for speakers and chairs only (approximately 25 people). All further participants may only attend via Zoom (please see registration link).


If you have any queries, please get in touch with the organisers of the conference: Dr Petros Bouras-Vallianatos ( and Dr Zubin Mistry (


Conference - 'Ecologies of Healing in the Premodern World (600-1350 CE)'

This Wellcome Trust funded conference will be held in September 2022, organised by Dr Petros Bouras-Vallianatos and Dr Zubin Mistry.

Via Zoom