Postcard from Spain… PhD candidate Rachel Podd reports on her research.

We’re happy to hear from Rachel Podd in this postcard she sent about her research in Spain this Summer. Rachel is a Ph.D candidate in the History department and helps lead undergraduates on el Camino de Santiago every spring. This summer she stayed after walking the camino to work on her own research. Rachel writes:

After doing the Camino de Santiago for the fourth time, helping to lead a group of wonderful Fordham students, I was able to spend a month in the diocesan archives of Girona and Barcelona, due in part to the Fordham GSA Summer Research Grant. My project focuses on how ecclesiastical records can help to recover the activities of unlicensed medical practitioners in the fourteenth century. The kingdom of Catalonia, including Girona and Barcelona, underwent dramatic shifts in licensing procedures and medical professionalization over the course of the 1300’s; together with the Black Death, these developments led to a chronic shortage of medical professionals, particularly outside the cities. Filling this gap were empirics: people lacking formal training. These empirics were often rural women, and people suspicious of their activities or seeking to exact revenge for a multiplicity of reasons often denounced them to the ecclesiastical administration during an episcopal visitation. The most famous of these women was Geralda de Codines, who appeared before the bishop of Barcelona three times over the course of the fourteenth century.

I went first to Girona, today a well-known destination for cyclists and home of El Celler de Can Roca, rated the second-best restaurant in the world. In the Middle Ages, Girona was a major center for Jewish life in Europe; today the Jewish quarter or Call is one of Catalonia’s most valuable tourist attractions. The diocesan archive there is relatively small, but the staff are warm and the view from the top of the steps down towards the river is sublime. I also took a day trip from Girona to Vic, a smaller but no less charming town to the west. While both archives were incredibly rich, most of my findings were in the diocesan archive of Barcelona, my last destination. Right across from the beautiful cathedral of Barcelona, a jewel of Catalan gothic and, to my view, no less impressive than the more famous Sagrada Familia, the diocesan archive of Barcelona contains incredible treasures that have only been sampled by English language scholars. In the morning I would walk from my AirBnB to the archive, passing by the security guard and into a quiet courtyard. I’d spend the morning leafing through dusty tomes, the always helpful staff ready to offer aid, and the spire of the cathedral visible through the window. This archive, like most diocesan archives in Spain, closed at 2:00, so after that I’d head out to get lunch at one of Barcelona’s fabulous restaurants and take in what the city had to offer. Having returned to the US, I have finished transcribing the relevant documents I discovered, and am now in the early stages of writing. I’ve been so fortunate to spend a portion of my past four summers in Spain, and I can’t wait to return.

The view from the doors to the Diocesan archive in Girona

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