We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Becoming Human

The Matter of the Medieval Child

J. Allan Mitchell

Publication Year: 2014

Becoming Human argues that human identity was articulated and extended across a wide range of textual, visual, and artifactual assemblages from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. J. Allan Mitchell shows how the formation of the child expresses a manifold and mutable style of being. To be human is to learn to dwell among a welter of things.

A searching and provocative historical inquiry into human becoming, the book presents a set of idiosyncratic essays on embryology and infancy, play and games, and manners, meals, and other messes. While it makes significant contributions to medieval scholarship on the body, family, and material culture, Becoming Human theorizes anew what might be called a medieval ecological imaginary. Mitchell examines a broad array of phenomenal objects—including medical diagrams, toy knights, tableware, conduct texts, dream visions, and scientific instruments—and in the process reanimates distinctly medieval ontologies.

In addressing the emergence of the human in the later Middle Ages, Mitchell identifies areas where humanity remains at risk. In illuminating the past, he shines fresh light on our present.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (52.6 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (73.3 KB)
pp. v-vi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (132.2 KB)
pp. vii-x

In this book I move far outside any isolated subject. Readers will find discussions of eggs, blood, medicine, alchemy, astrolabes, planets, playthings, guilds, woodwork, tableware, recipes, etiquette, and multiple literary genres. Ranging across forms, matters, and media, I try out new approaches to a common set of questions: what does it take to sustain life? ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (354.1 KB)
pp. xi-xxx

In an astonishing passage about nativity and infancy located near the beginning of his Confessions, Augustine meditates on his origins in the impersonal and immemorial event of birth. He begins to confess, in other words, where no autobiography is possible, and may be taken to confess to the fault of not being able to produce one in the first place. ...

read more

Being Born

pdf iconDownload PDF (353.7 KB)
pp. 1-58

At the start of his Confessions, Augustine is more candid than most about the precariousness of life, peering into the abyssal depths of becoming from which anything at all arises. But his remarks about the amnesiac infant are meant to be instructive, generating further reflection on the mysterious origins and ends of life. ...

read more

Childish Things

pdf iconDownload PDF (314.9 KB)
pp. 59-116

An early-fourteenth-century miniature knight on horseback, discovered in the muddy foreshore of the River Thames in the 1980s, now sits on display behind a glass case in the Museum of London (see Plate 6).1 It is a hollow, three-dimensional man and mount cast in pewter (tin–lead alloy), standing just over two inches tall. ...

read more

The Mess

pdf iconDownload PDF (71.6 KB)
pp. 117-174

Tables can appear to be no more than convenient, receptive household objects, entirely correlated to human use. Bartholomaeus Anglicus’s On the Properties of Things, translated into Middle English by John Trevisa late in the 1390s, offers a relevant generic definition: “A borde hatte [is called] tabula and hath þat name of teneo, tenes ‘to holde.’” ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (313.6 KB)
pp. 175-178

I have offered what may appear to be a strongly revisionist account of medieval cosmology, ontology, economy, and ethics. But this book is not out to revise the past. From several vantage points (scientific, technological, artifactual, and literary), the human has been shown to become one intercalated and immanent form of matter among others. ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (1.5 MB)
pp. 179-236


pdf iconDownload PDF (809.6 KB)
pp. 237-249

read more

About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (41.9 KB)

J. Allan Mitchell is associate professor of English at the University of Victoria. He is the author of Ethics and Eventfulness in Middle English Literature and Ethics and Exemplary Narrative in Chaucer and Gower.

Image Plates

pdf iconDownload PDF (715.7 KB)

E-ISBN-13: 9781452941561
E-ISBN-10: 1452941564
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816689972

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2014