Chelsea Silva, a PhD candidate in the Department of English, has been awarded the prestigious Dissertation Completion Fellowship by the American Council of Learned Societies, a fellowship made possibly by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Chosen from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants, each Mellon/ACLS Fellow receives a $30,000 stipend and up to $8,000 in additional funding. This year’s cohort, the most institutionally-diverse in the program’s thirteen years, includes sixty-seven Fellows from forty-two different US universities.
Silva’s dissertation, “Bedwritten: Middle English Medicine and the Ailing Author,” explores the entanglement of English literary and medical culture in the late Middle Ages, using medical manuscripts to reexamine texts produced by ill or impaired writers such as John Audelay and Julian of Norwich. This phase in the history of medicine has traditionally been explored from a macroscopic perspective that maps the linguistic transition from Latin to English. Silva’s project intervenes into this tradition, studying both medical and literary texts for their shaping of medieval concepts of illness and wellness and foregrounding the microexperiences that occur on an individual, bodied, and material level. Many medical manuscripts remain unpublished and undigitized; Silva’s work has included archival research at the Huntington Library in San Marino, the British and Wellcome Libraries in London, and at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. These medical works provide indispensable evidence of what it was like to think, read, and write about the ailing body while existing within it, a question that has become pivotal across both the humanities and the sciences following the rise of interdisciplinary fields such as critical disability studies, which seeks to better understand historical experiences of embodiment.
Silva will spend part of her fellowship year as a Visiting Student in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. Her dissertation has also been supported by fellowships from the Huntington Library and the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship, as well as grants from the Medieval Academy of America and the Richard III Society, the University of California Humanities Research Institute, and UCR’s own Center for Ideas and Society.