Chelsea Rae Silva

Research areas:

Middle English literature, material culture, the incunabula, disability studies, medical humanities


Andrea Denny-Brown (chair), John Ganim, Heidi Brayman

Research interests:

My research project is threefold. First, I am writing a dissertation that centers on late medieval authorship and healthcare, and is heavily based in unpublished medical recipes and archival materials in Middle English. Tied to this project is a searchable, open-access database of medical recipes transcribed from manuscript sources. Finally, I am also working on an edition of British Library MS Harley 4349, a unique Middle English manuscript written by an Italian physician, which includes an extensive narrativized remedy collection as well as a number of longer tracts describing his practice.

My dissertation, Bedwritten: Middle English Medicine and the Ailing Author, examines the intersection of medical care and literature in late medieval England. Centering on texts produced by writers who were ailing or impaired, I argue that late medieval healthcare, enacted through daily acts of bodily maintenance, played a more influential role in contemporary literature than has yet been discussed. This project foregrounds extracanonical medical texts like medieval recipe collections and leechbooks in order to better understand the embodied experiences of illness described by authors like Julian of Norwich, John Audelay, William Dunbar, and Thomas Hoccleve. Unlike these canonical texts, leechbooks, remedy books, recipe collections, and other miscellanies frequently go unstudied outside of the discipline of medical history because of their textual complexity. They often contain hundreds of recipes added and emended over time, in many cases by multiple generations of readers. One example is Huntington Library MS HU 1051, a medical and scientific miscellany written by at least thirteen people throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. These understudied manuscripts 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 with the rise of interdisciplinary fields like critical disability studies.

Recent Activity: 

Peer Reviewed Publications:

Opening the Medieval Folding Almanac.Exemplaria 30.1 (2018): 49-66

Fellowships and Grants:

Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship, 2019 Foremothers Fellow

UCR Dissertation Year Program Award (UCR), 2019

UCR Earl C. Anthony Graduate Student Travel Award (UCR), 2018, 2019

Humanities Graduate Research Grant (UCR, Center for Ideas and Society), 2018

Selected Presentations:

“’Rede hit sofft’: Durative Healthcare in the Life and Poetry of John Audelay.” International Medieval Congress, Leeds (July 2019).

“Experience and Reason: the Narrative Remedy Collection of Donatus Antonius in BL MS Harley 4349.” Marco Manuscript Workshop, University of Tennesse (February 2019).

“(Im)practical Magic: Middle English Recipe Compendiums and Everyday Recreation.” New Chaucer
Society, Toronto, Canada (July 2018).

“‘A gracious remedé’: John Audelay’s Didactic Prescriptions.” International Congress on Medieval
Studies, Kalamazoo, MI (May 2018).

“‘Herbes of the gardyn and wedys of the feldys’: Vernacular Medical Instruction in The Grete Herball.”
Early Modern Center, UC Santa Barbara, CA (March 2018).