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Having completed her undergraduate degree in Classics and Medieval Studies at the University of Reading, Dr Ruth Salter realised she wasn't quite done with studying history. In fact it felt like a natural progression to pursue her master’s study with the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies and give herself more time to investigate the particular areas she was interested in.

Following a kind of organic process of moving on through the degrees, Ruth also did her PhD in medieval history in the Department of History. She is now a lecturer in medieval history and the admissions tutor for undergraduate history students.

Exploring the Middle Ages

Ruth’s research interests lie in healthcare in the High Middle Ages including miraculous healing and this is reflected in her teaching. 

“It's not just about what the doctors are doing, but also the environment around health and understandings of the body. Two of my undergraduate modules 'Medieval Medicine' and 'Health, Healthcare and Healing in the Middle Ages’ are based on these interests.”

Ruth’s interest in the Middle Ages also informs her teaching of women in the medieval world.

“Authors of medieval source material are generally churchmen. They can be monks in monasteries or clerics attached to secular cathedrals. I like to tease the sources apart and find insight into the people who don't leave records of their own."

Medieval medicine

Lessons from the past

Ruth recently published a monograph called 'Saints, Cure-Seekers and Miraculous Healing in Twelfth Century England' (York Medieval Press, 2021).

“Looking at seven English saints’ cults and their twelfth-century posthumous miracle collections, I consider stories of miraculous healing and the experiences of those who sought this out (the cure-seekers). Who were these cure-seekers, where did these people originate from, and what kind of distance did they travel in search of miraculous cure? The book places experiences of being miraculously healed within the contemporary world view of medicine and healthcare, reflecting the range and hierarchy of therapy available.”

Ruth encourages her students to engage with primary sources and asks her students to read the miracle stories and think about how we actually approach something that seems like fiction and why was it seen as a possibility in the Middle Ages.

She also encourages her students to look beyond written documentation and explore other source material.

“We can look at wall paintings or stained glass where it survives. Or look at the structure of a building and think about how the space might have been used and how people moved around it. Using the fragments, we can pull together a picture of what was actually going on.”

Further Research

Ruth is now developing ideas for her next research project.

“I am thinking more about how medicine and healthcare was experienced and practiced in the medieval monasteries of the Anglo-Norman world. These are places where we know they collected medical texts and we have copies of medical manuscripts and material. I've been wondering about where these materials are kept and who would have had access to them."

Ruth also wants to expand her study in a broader context of what is happening in the other parts of the world.

“I am constantly curious! I'd love to know more about the ancient Greeks and the Arab world and the medieval medical inheritance there. The eastern Mediterranean had access to medical texts that Western Europe didn’t, or at least not until the high Middle Ages saw a surge in transmission and translation. And if you go further east to India and China and look at some of the herbal texts, they include some herbs that have both culinary and medicinal properties (just as we see in Western herbals). I think it's a developing field and there's always something new to learn that allows us to place our own ‘healthcare history’ into a broader perspective.”