SIFK 2018-20 Postdoctoral Scholar Joe Stadolnik researches Middle English literature and the language of scientific practice contemporary to it. Stadolnik’s book project, “Subtle Arts: Practical Science and its Publics in Late Medieval England,” explores a neglected archive of medical and alchemical discourse that was traded among experts, attested in court, and proclaimed on city streets; Stadolnik does so to read medieval literature’s scientific preoccupations against the pragmatic realities of practicing science in medieval English social life. He describes performances of scientific expertise—like translators’ prologues, doctors’ bedside manners, alchemists’ public speech, and the medicine shows of physicians and quacks—to articulate how practical expertise could be avowed, appreciated, and challenged through rhetorical and stylistic means in the multilingual setting of medieval England. Expert registers of scientific language, Stadolnik argues, rehearsed self-conscious, artful modes of self-presentation through which Chaucer and his contemporaries could craft expert vernacular voices in literary practice. Rather than regard the medieval sciences merely as the occasional objects of poets’ intellectual fascination, my work situates claims to natural knowledge—and the language crafted to make them—in their immediate historical context. So situated, the stylistic repertoires of practical-scientific expertise offer a new critical vantage onto the politics of vernacular language and profession animating Middle English literature. Stadolnik’s literary arguments in “Subtle Arts” are everywhere informed by interdisciplinary engagement with social history, the sociology of language, and the long history of science.

Related SIFK Courses

  • KNOW 40305: The Archive of Early English Literature: Manuscripts, Books, and Canon (Spring 2019)
  • KNOW 27012: Reading the Known World: Medieval Travel Genres (Winter 2019)

Learn more about Joe Stadolnik.