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The moral sense of touch: teaching tactile values in late medieval England

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“The Moral Sense of Touch: Teaching Tactile Values in Late Medieval England” investigates the intersections of popular science and religious education in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Taking an

“The Moral Sense of Touch: Teaching Tactile Values in Late Medieval England” investigates the intersections of popular science and religious education in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, the project draws together a range of textual artifacts, from scientific manuals to private prayerbooks, to reconstruct the vast network of touch supporting the late medieval moral syllabus. I argue that new scientific understandings of the five senses, and specifically the sense of touch, had a great impact on the processes, procedures, and parlances of vernacular religious instruction in late medieval England. The study is organized around a set of object lessons that realize the materiality of devotional reading practices. Over the course of investigation, I explore how the tactile values reinforcing medieval conceptions of pleasure and pain were cultivated to educate and, in effect, socialize popular reading audiences. Writing techniques and technologies—literary forms, manuscript designs, illustration programs—shaped the reception and user-experience of devotional texts. Focusing on the cultural life of the sense of touch, “The Moral Sense of Touch” provides a new context for a sense based study of historical literatures, one that recovers the centrality of touch in cognitive, aesthetic, and moral discourses.

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  • 2016