Guy Geltner’s new book “Roads to Health: Infrastructure and Public Wellbeing in Later Medieval Italy” is in the process of being published by The University of Pennsylvania Press. This book “[…] proposes to examine public health from an emic (“insider”) perspective as a dynamic and historically contingent set of legal prohibitions, disciplining practices and subtle insinuations designed to improve health outcomes at the population level. It is decidedly not meant to set up later medieval cities as the antechamber of modernity, although resisting the teleology does not amount to suggesting that the period under consideration and eighteenth-century developments share no common ground whatsoever. For, if cities threatened to turn into Europe’s demographic black holes in the aftermath of industrialization, why not examine how governments and residents dealt with comparable pressures during western Europe’s first—medieval—widespread proliferation of cities and in one of its most urbanized regions, namely central-northern Italy? At this, by now well-documented level, my goal is to stimulate a different kind of conversation among health and medical historians and enable them, if not to reject, then at least to tread a little more carefully (and certainly less giddily) across an assumed pre/modern divide. Without dismissing the distinction’s analytical value tout court, it is important to ask more precisely what happened and more deliberately where lies the qualitative gap between two postulated (and all too often essentialized) eras, rather than assume and thereby perpetuate the notion of a pervasive hygienic ignorance among premodern urban residents.”
You can get access to a preprint, Open Access version of the book here.