Sensing Danger: Disease, Environment, and Urban Vigilance in Early Modern and Modern Cities

December 6, 2019, Rachel Carson Center, Leopoldstr. 11a, Munich, Germany

Coping with environmental and health hazards was essential for the communities of early modern and modern cities and has been a longstanding subject of historical research. In our workshop, we will approach this topic through the lens of vigilance cultures, which we understand as practices of keeping a close watch on potential danger and the way these practices vary in different cultural and historical contexts. Vigilance in cities could never be fully delegated to institutions, but had to rely on the participation of individuals and their attentive observation of their surrounding environments and of themselves.

While urban officials, institutions such as health boards, and sanitary or factory inspectors were important in urban sanitation and healthcare, we would also like to explore how wider sections of the urban population were involved in identifying, reporting, and fighting health and environmental threats in their communities. What motivated people to be involved? How was individual engagement encouraged and when was it seen as unwelcome or dangerous? How did urban residents articulate and describe the perceived threats and how did this relate to their emotions and sensory experience?

If you would like to attend the workshop, please write to

See the website here.



10:00 – 11:00
Anna Mazanik (RCC)/Brendan Röder/Arndt Brendecke (CRC ‘Cultures of Vigilance’)
Introduction and presentation of the CRC ‘Cultures of Vigilance’
11:00 – 11:30 Coffee break
In the background: Virtual exhibition Ecopolis München: Environmental Histories of a City
11:30 – 13:00 Panel I
Fritz Dross (University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)
“Und man muß den Ertzten auch würz geben für den smak”: Avoiding the Dangerous Smell of Leprosy in Renaissance Nuremberg
Manuel Förg (University of Bonn)
“Ut universa urbs sese possit ab exorienti malo praeservare”: Rodrigo de Castro and the Plague in Hamburg (1596/97)
Mark Hengerer (CRC ‘Cultures of Vigilance’, LMU Munich)
Fighting the Plague: Vigilance on the French Mediterranean Coast (1680-1760)
13:00 – 14:00 Lunch Break
14:00 – 15:30 Panel II
Franziska Neumann (German Historical Institute London/University of Rostock)
Rather Pestilence than an Increase of Officers? Waste Infrastructures,Vigilance and the Senses in 18th century London
Ulrike Platt (RCC/University of Tallinn)
Women and Rabies in 19th century Riga
Maria Pirogovskaya (European University at St. Petersburg)
Alerted Nose. Olfactory Vigilance and the Russian Sanitarian Movement in the Post-Reform Era (1870-1900s)
15:30 – 16:00 Coffee break
In the background: Virtual Exhibition The Life of Waste
16:00 -17:00 Panel III
Anna Mazanik (RCC)
From State Surveillance to Vigilant Clients: Controlling Venereal Disease in Late Imperial Moscow
Graham Mooney (Institute for the History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University)
The 1989 Baltimore “Biosolids Crisis”: A Crisis 50 years in the Making
17:00 – 18:00
Final Discussion

The workshop is organized by the Collaborative Research Centre ‘Cultures of Vigilance’ (Projects B03 and B04) and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, both at LMU Munich.

Posted: December 04, 2019