By William Viney
Paper given at the 10th Annual Conference of the Association for Medical Humanities (2013)
Introduction: On giving this paper I attempted to access a past that is remote to me. I have, for the most part, avoided working outside the safety of the modern and contemporary period, and the idea of pursuing the meaning of twins in the medieval and early modern period filled me with a distinct sense of unease. I am neither an historian nor am I a specialist in medieval and early modern medical culture.
The second confession that ought to preface this post should acknowledge how over excited I got about the more medieval parts of my research; I have to apologise for not even coming close to balance suggested by my title. In the end, perhaps what I have to say about medieval and early modern approaches to twinship reflects a certain kind of license that I think the medical humanities offers to me, a license to roam and to test some generalisations, to find differences and continuities across different times and in different places, to make global some critical perspectives on twins and their study. To me, in times of narrowing historical reach and a policy environment which has encouraged an increase in specialisation, I feel it an opportune moment to pursue twins as subject that reaches beyond a particular ‘context’ or ‘location’.
I hope this isn’t an all-together negative or reactionary position – I lean heavily on some extremely detailed historical work. But when looking at the significance of twins across human cultures we cannot isolate and keep twins separate from all the times, people and places that have informed the variety of our ideas about them. With all this said I present some rather rough ideas that will, in the coming years, be polished up into something more coherent.