CFP: The Theory and Practice of the Six Non-Naturals (c.1400-1700)

Do you study the history of defecation, exhalation, or other bodily wastes? 

Healthy Living in Pre-Modern Europe.
The Theory and Practice of the Six Non-Naturals (c.1400-1700)

Conference Venue: Institute of Historical Research, Bloomsbury, London.
Conference Dates: 13-14 September 2013

This conference seeks to bring together scholars working on topics related
to the role played by the six Non-Naturals in health maintenance in the
late-medieval and early modern period.  It is well-known that health was
thought to depend on the regulation of the six key factors affecting body
functions: the air one breathes, sleep, food and drink, evacuations,
movement and emotions. In pre-modern medicine careful management of these
spheres of life was regarded as crucial if one wished to prevent disease.
Yet the study of the Non Naturals has been neglected, as scholars have
focused on the development of the concept in medical thought rather than
on the advice regarding the individual non-naturals. The only exception
concerns the recommendations related to food and diet while the other
Non-Naturals have been the object only of general surveys. Even less
attention has been paid to the relationship between preventive advice and
practice.  This conference intends to address these gaps. Moreover we hope
to stimulate discussions which will enable us to compare different regions
and countries and to explore changing approaches to the Non-Naturals (and
to the underpinning humoural principles) over the period under

More specifically the conference aims to:

-Compare the contents of medical advice about the Non-Naturals (how these
activities should ideally be performed) and the actual practices
associated with keeping healthy.  What relationship did practices bear to
prescription? In order to address these questions scholars might use a
range of ‘extra-medical’ sources, such as letters, diaries, literature and

-Explore change within the body of medical theory on the Non-Naturals.
Were definitions of what was regarded as harmful or beneficial to health
modified over the period? And is the idea of the body and its
vulnerabilities that underpins these views subject to any transformations?
It has widely been assumed that humoural theory was essentially static and
unchanging during the early modern period. Is this view in need of

- Explore the extent to which both recommendations about healthy living
and the preventive measures adopted in everyday life changed over time.
And were these transformations medically or socially driven? In other
words were they a consequence of shifting ideas about the working of the
body or of changing lifestyles?

- Stimulate comparisons between different regions and countries. For
example, did the medical traditions in different countries place different
emphases on the six Non-Naturals? Did they all conceptualise the humours
in similar ways?  Were there different lay approaches to keeping healthy
in different national contexts? Did people focus on any particular
Non-Naturals –giving more weight to diet, for example, or to taking
exercise- in order to maintain their health?

Papers will be 30 minutes long with discussants for groups of papers.

Papers must be submitted at least two weeks before the conference to
facilitate the work of the discussants.

Please send an abstract of no more than 500 words by 24 March 2013 to the
conference secretary, Tessa.

Please e-mail the Organisers with any questions: and