Laura Williams

Laura Kalas Williams

Department: English and Medieval Studies
Discipline: English
Research Centre/Unit: Medical Humanities

Project Summary

My research involves the representation of transitional pain in late medieval mystical texts.  I am interested in the intersections of visionary literature and medical texts, particularly medieval medical theories of gestation, fertility and gynaecology, and the ways in which female visionaries use a language of maternity to express their mystical experience.  My thesis employs the notion of the human life cycle as its methodological approach. My primary text is The Book of Margery Kempe, but I am also interested in other late medieval mystics such as Julian of Norwich, Elizabeth of Hungary and Bridget of Sweden.  My research also considers the cultural reception of these texts, and the contexts into which they were born, looking at the literary history of the representation of the Virgin Mary and of Eve, as well as exemplaries of saints' lives.

My methodology is interdisciplinary.  As well as the medieval medical texts that influence female mystical writing, I am also researching modern pain theory in order to consider the phenomenology of the human-body-in-pain, and the cultural constructions on which that notion rests. 

Supervisory Team

Dr Eddie Jones, English Department (first supervisor).

Dr Catherine Rider, History Department (second supervisor).

Wider Research Interests

My wider research interests concern women's writing and experience in the late Middle Ages. I have worked on the history of emotion and affect, particularly medieval notions of melancholia, as well as the traditions of blood piety and stigmata. I am also interested in Chaucer and other medieval poetry, as well as early drama, notably the mystery and morality plays.  I am interested in female representations in these texts including aspects of performance and voice, as well as medieval ideas about sexuality and the female body.  Late medieval culture, especially social roles, boundaries and the notion of life cycle is also part of my ongoing research, as well as the history of medicine and how this informs a reading of the texts and the bodies of this period. I continue to consider the phenomenology of female experience in the Middle Ages, including theories of biological mutation.