Natalie Van Deusen
On Miracle Narratives as Sources for the Construction of Disability in Medieval Iceland
Fimmtudaginn 21. október 2021 kl. 16.30
This paper discusses the importance of Old Norse-Icelandic miracle narratives, which contain a plethora of examples of impairment of varying degrees of visibility and severity, as sources for understanding of how impairment and disability were constructed in medieval Iceland. Echoing the fundamental biblical miracles performed by Jesus, saints channeled the power of God to cure the blind, deaf, leprous, physically impaired, and mentally troubled. Such examples, whose primary purpose was to demonstrate the sanctity of certain individuals, lend important incidental insight into the lives and experiences of individuals with visible and invisible impairments. Equally illuminating in terms of constructing disability is viewing the material from the perspective of why people call upon the aid of saints. While presented as maladies to be cured, and in this way presenting these individuals as impaired and/or disabled, these miracles sometimes show the great love and care given to disabled individuals–especially children. In either presentation, such examples provide a window into how visible and invisible impairments were experienced, understood, and treated in medieval Iceland.
This discussion builds upon the important research and conclusions from the Disability Before Disability research project at the University of Iceland, which ran from 2017-2020, and argues for the importance of hagiographic literature and miracle narratives in particular as important sources for our understanding of how disability and impairment were constructed in medieval Iceland.
Natalie Van Deusen (PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2012) is Henry Cabot and Linnea Lodge Professor of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Alberta. Her research interests include Old Norse and Early Modern Icelandic paleography and philology, manuscript culture, hagiography, disability studies, and gender studies.
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