Interview with Kori Filipek

Our next MEMSA seminar will be given by Kori Filipek, entitled ‘Confinement or Care? Multidisciplinary Investigations of Children and Adolescents in an Early Medieval Leprosarium’. The seminar will take place on Friday 28 February, in the World Heritage Visitor Centre, Durham. Turn up for tea & biscuits from 5.40pm, with Kori’s paper beginning at 6pm. We spoke to Kori about Transylvania, interdisciplinarity, and the social aspects of medicine and disease – read on for a preview of the seminar!
Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?
I’m originally from the US, where I trained in Biological and Forensic Anthropology and Archaeology, and Classics. I have a keen interest in disease in human skeletal remains (palaeopathology), particularly from archaeological contexts. Previous to coming to Durham, I was a lecturer in Forensic Anthropology and Osteology, and worked in human remains repatriation; both in archaeological and forensic casework. In addition to the research I do here, I also manage a necropolis excavation in Transylvania where I train students/volunteers how to excavate and analyse human remains. It’s great fun!
What brought you to Durham?
I specifically came to Durham to train under Professors Charlotte Roberts and Becky Gowland in the Department of Archaeology. Their thematic and holistic approaches to the related fields of bioarchaeology and palaeopathology have revolutionised the discipline and really challenged previous historical narratives. They are a continuous source of inspiration!
What’s your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?
It has to be the profound impacts of health and disease on every aspect of life. Most people think of diseases like the plague as being single events, or in very insular contexts. But the ability to bridge different lines of evidence (e.g. biogeochemistry, climate science, clinical medicine, etc.) to view the factors that contribute to disease and influence disease capacities, and then the subsequent effects of these factors on aspects of things like past culture and environment is very exciting.
What does your research focus on?
My research focuses on the study of human remains from archaeological contexts, specifically health and disease status. I am particularly interested in how biocultural factors of health and disease frame the past, and the wider, longitudinal biological and social implications of these.
What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?
The seminar I am delivering will be focusing on the care and treatment of children and adolescents with leprosy in the Saxo-Norman transition. Leprosy is such a socially charged infection, and a common narrative exists with regard to how leprosy sufferers were viewed in the past that has lasting and deleterious impacts on present-day sufferers. I’m re-interrogating that narrative to see if the evidence marries up with current preconceptions.
If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?
I genuinely have no clue. I have taught in Higher Education for 12 years now, and have such a passion for teaching and research that I cannot foresee doing anything else. Every day that I have the privilege to continue on this journey is exciting!
Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?
My favourite texts from this period have to be the Leechbooks. What fascinating compendia. I’m also a huge fan of the London Bills of Mortality.
Kori Filipek
Image by Kori Filipek. 

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