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The medical paratext

The University of Glasgow organises the conference “The medical paratext” on September 7-8, 2022.

‘Paratext’ is a term coined by Gérard Genette in 1987 to refer to the material surrounding a printed text, including titles, prefaces, introductions, and footnotes. The notion of the paratext has recently been introduced to the study of medieval codices, with scholars working on medieval palaeography and codicology currently negotiating its various categorisations and the challenges thereof. An important category of medieval manuscripts that has often been neglected in that respect is that of medical codices. This conference aims to plug this gap by applying the concept of the paratext right to the very heart of the study of medieval medical manuscripts containing texts in a variety of languages, including Arabic, Persian, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and other European vernacular. It thus seeks to make a significant advance in our understanding of how medieval medical manuscripts were used by their producers and consumers. The organizers are interested in encouraging theoretical reflection on the following subjects/questions:

  • Different kinds and categories of paratextual elements (e.g. prefaces, foliation, decoration, illustrations, diagrams, annotations of any sort, colophons) and their significance;
  • Transformation of texts through paratexts. How can the use of specific paratextual elements enhance/influence the reading/understanding of a particular medical text/theory?
  • Paratextual elements as visual aids, especially, but not exclusively, in scholastic settings;
  • The features of scribal and editorial paratextuality in medical works;
  • Extensive paratexts (e.g. commentaries and scholia) and their function;
  • The mobility of paratexts (e.g. their infiltration into the main text) and the transmission of the resulting ‘hidden’ paratext;
  • Medical paratexts and their reception;
  • Paratext and memory in medieval medicine (e.g. through the lens of cognitive theory);
  • Paratext as a means of tracing the history of medical codices through time, geographical and social space;
  • Paratext as a means of constructing and disseminating medical knowledge.


Confirmed speakers:

  • Giulia Ecca (Sapienza University of Rome)
  • Sivan Gottlieb (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
  • Fabian Käs (University of Cologne)
  • David Langslow (The University of Manchester)
  • Oliver Overwien (Humboldt University of Berlin)
  • Ignacio Sánchez (University of Warwick)
  • Anna Maria Urso (University of Messina)
  • Iolanda Ventura (University of Bologna)
  • Elvira Wakelnig (University of Vienna)


Deadline call for papers: April 30, 2022
Each paper will be 30 minutes long followed by a session of questions and answers (around 10 minutes). The organizers are looking for papers dealing with original and previously unpublished material; extended versions of the papers will form a peer-reviewed edited volume.
For a brief introduction to the medieval paratext, please see the study by Cooper.
Scholars are invited to submit abstracts of ca. 250 words to sophia.xenofontos@glasgow.ac.uk and petros.bouras-vallianatos@ed.ac.uk.