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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 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 medical 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.

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

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

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

Lessons from the past

Ruth recently published a monograph called 'Saints, cure seekers and miraculous healing in twelfth century England'.

“It looks at seven cult centres and considers stories of miraculous healing. It encourages thinking about the experiences of the people who were involved. Where did these people originate from and what kind of distance did they travel in search of miraculous cure? The book also explores where does this idea of being able to get healed miraculously fit within the contemporary world view of medicine and healthcare?”

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 a fantasy and why was it seen as a possibility in the twelfth century.

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 a little bit 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, 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'd love to know more about the ancient Greeks and the Arab world and their inheritance. They have access to some of the classical medical texts that Western Europe doesn't. 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. I think it's a developing field and there's always something new to learn.”