A Social History of Disability in the Middle Ages: Cultural Considerations of Physical Impairment, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

A Social History of Disability in the Middle Ages

Cultural Considerations of Physical Impairment, 1st Edition

By Irina Metzler


336 pages

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What was it like to be disabled in the Middle Ages? How did people become disabled? Did welfare support exist? This book discusses social and cultural factors affecting the lives of medieval crippled, deaf, mute and blind people, those nowadays collectively called "disabled." Although the word did not exist then, many of the experiences disabled people might have today can already be traced back to medieval social institutions and cultural attitudes.

This volume informs our knowledge of the topic by investigating the impact medieval laws had on the social position of disabled people, and conversely, how people might become disabled through judicial actions; ideas of work and how work could both cause disability through industrial accidents but also provide continued ability to earn a living through occupational support networks; the disabling effects of old age and associated physical deteriorations; and the changing nature of attitudes towards welfare provision for the disabled and the ambivalent role of medieval institutions and charity in the support and care of disabled people.


“In her introduction, Metzler states her intention to ‘tease out from the many disparate sources some inkling of the “lived experience”; she has certainly achieved this …this volume (like Metzler’s previous book- the two should ideally be read as a pair) serves as an important addition to the existing literature on medieval disability, and as an important corrective to conventional assumptions that the medieval world was full of disabled individuals who lived lives of great suffering…this is a work which will be essential reading for anyone interested in the experiences of the physically impaired in pre-modern Europe, and will also be of value to historians whose work focuses on one or more of its key themes.” - Dr. Katherine Harvey, King’s College London

"With Disability Studies on the rise in academia, Irina Metzler’s comprehensive study of the cultural aspects of disability in the Middle Ages is a welcome and will be a well-appreciated addition to the field of study.Metzler’s research is quite clearly exhaustive, and her use of a wide variety of sources—legal, clerical, literary—gives her work a clear sense of definitiveness. Through her thorough and meticulous consideration of the sources on the cultural ramifications of disability in the Middle Ages, Metzler skillfully argues her assertion of the liminality of the medieval disabled." -Rachel Levinson-Emley, UC Santa Barbara, USA

Table of Contents

Introduction. 1. Law 2. Work 3. Ageing 4. Charity. Conclusion.

About the Author

Irina Metzler studied Classical and Medieval History, gaining a doctorate from the University of Reading, honorary research affiliations with the universities of Bristol and Swansea, and was awarded a Wellcome Trust fellowship (2012). She has published widely on cultural, religious and social aspects of disability in the European Middle Ages.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Cultural History

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General
HISTORY / Medieval
HISTORY / Social History
SOCIAL SCIENCE / People with Disabilities