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Medical Humanities Initiative Work-in-Progress Talk rebecca-helfer-photo

Memory and Medicine in Early Modern England

Presented by Rebeca Helfer, Ph.D., Associate Professor of English, UCI School of Humanities

Date: Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Time: 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Location: Doheny CD, UCI Student Center. Parking is $10 in the Student Center Parking Structure (directions

The event is free and open to the public.

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Abstract: What did memory have to do with medicine in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England? This talk examines the intimate relationship between memory and medicine in Renaissance England, how mind and body intertwine in writing about memory during this period, as well as the overlapping psychological and physiological ways in which memory was understood historically, from antiquity on. Focusing specifically on Robert Burton’s magisterial Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), this talk considers how and why Burton diagnoses memory as though a doctor treating a patient, describing memory in terms of health and disease – particularly the ailment of melancholy, which results not only from a deficiency or loss of memory but also from an excess of memory. Throughout the Anatomy, I suggest, medicine represents Burton’s most important metaphor for memory, which he diagnoses as both disease and cure: as the cause of melancholy and, as Burton’s humanist masterpiece demonstrates, the best medicine for it.

About the Speaker: Rebeca Helfer studies the role of memory in Renaissance English literature, and has published Spenser’s Ruins and the Art of Recollection (University of Toronto Press, 2012). Rebeca is currently at work on a study of memory in early modern poetics, The Art of Memory and The Art of Writing in Early Modern England.