Jennifer Borland: Manuscripts on the Move

The following paper will be delivered as part of Questioning Geographies and Temporalities: Postcolonizing Medieval Art on February 12th, at the College Art Association’s 98th Annual Conference in Chicago.

Manuscripts on the Move: Cross-Cultural Exchange and the Régime du corps

Jennifer Borland, University of Pennsylvania and Oklahoma State University

This paper takes form around the thirteenth-century Régime du corps, a popular health guide that survives in more than sixty manuscripts, ranging from luxurious elite manuscripts to more modest copies, which span multiple languages and contexts. These cultural convergences seem perfectly suited to exploration in postcolonial terms. For instance, the Régime represents a kind of hybrid text, traversing a wide range of medieval genres, including health guides, scientific treatises, encyclopedias, bestiaries, and literature. Moreover, the centrality of Arabic traditions forces us to rethink Christian- or Euro-centric models of history. The Régime manuscripts also provoke questions about the social status, gender, and health of their audiences, highlighting how knowledge systems and power converged in medieval society.

These books challenge the traditionally marginal status of scientific and medical material in medieval art history, highlighting instead the diversity of visual culture in the Middle Ages along with the multidisciplinary nature of medieval studies itself.