Practicing Public Health: Europe, 1300-1700

June 12, 2014, Florence, Italy

A Conference organized by John Henderson and G. Geltner

Sponsored by the Medici Archive Project & Villa I Tatti – The Harvard University Center for Renaissance Studies

Against tenacious misconceptions, pre-modern cities in and beyond Italy are finally beginning to shed their reputation as demographic black holes. The revised view of earlier cities’ relative salubriousness, however, is mostly grounded in medical treatises and statutes, sometimes at the expense of documents and instruments of practice. The goal of this conference is to examine new kinds of evidence and demonstrate that the feasibility and popularity of health interventions can be gauged on the basis of additional sources and new methodologies. Criminal court documents, for instance, reveal the extent to which devised plans were ignored and pertinent regulations violated. City council protocols help to establish the scale of resources (human, financial, administrative) allocated to incentivize participation and to ensure a modicum of cooperation. Material culture, from archaeological remains to maps to figurative and symbolic art, as well as a wide range of descriptive and narrative sources, such as diaries, chronicles, and fiction, can also illuminate pre-modern approaches to perceived risks and possible solutions. Finally the conference will encourage participants to think beyond the traditional paradigm of exclusive concentration on the urban environment and seek to bridge the gap between urban and rural environments.

Posted: February 13, 2014