“Roads to Health” – Now Available from Penn Press

Roads to Health: Infrastructure and Urban Wellbeing in Later Medieval Italy

G. Geltner

320 pages | 6 x 9 | 20 illus. 
Cloth Aug 2019 | ISBN 9780812251357
A volume in the Middle Ages Series

  • “G. Geltner’s Roads to Health transforms our understanding of urban life in later medieval Italy, and the premodern world more broadly, not simply by recovering the activities of officials in charge of urban infrastructure and the courts that adjudicated their work but also by pushing the chronology of these ‘healthscaping’ efforts into the period before the arrival of the Black Death. Geltner’s book is as important for historians of medicine and urban life as it is for historians of public health. A singular achievement.”—Monica Green, Arizona State University
  • A field-changing book, Roads to Health shatters the prevailing narrative that public health administration emerged from industrialization and other processes of Euro-American modernization. Combining richly documented detail and bold historical sweep, G. Geltner demonstrates that teleological assumptions have obscured the history of premodern public health policies, practices, and preventive theories; have distorted efforts to historicize govermentality and biopower; and are complicit with agendas that have claimed public health as a characteristic of civilized, Western modernity.”—Kathleen Davis, University of Rhode Island
  • “Consistently original and innovative, Roads to Health is a major contribution to the study of public health and medieval urban life. It furnishes incontestable documentary proof that northern Italian towns adopted a proactive approach to issues of environmental health long before the Black Death, while developing sophisticated legal and administrative structures to ensure compliance ‘on the ground.'”—Carole Rawcliffe, University of East Anglia
  • “Roads to Health is a spirited and thought-provoking argument for continuity between medieval and modern public health activities and for the existence and preeminence of routine practices over one-off emergency solutions to public health problems.”—Paolo Squatriti, University of Michigan

In Roads to Health, G. Geltner demonstrates that urban dwellers in medieval Italy had a keen sense of the dangers to their health posed by conditions of overcrowding, shortages of food and clean water, air pollution, and the improper disposal of human and animal waste. He consults scientific, narrative, and normative sources that detailed and consistently denounced the physical and environmental hazards urban communities faced: latrines improperly installed and sewers blocked; animals left to roam free and carcasses left rotting on public byways; and thoroughfares congested by artisanal and commercial activities that impeded circulation, polluted waterways, and raised miasmas. However, as Geltner shows, numerous administrative records also offer ample evidence of the concrete measures cities took to ameliorate unhealthy conditions. Toiling on the frontlines were public functionaries generally known as viarii, or “road-masters,” appointed to maintain their community’s infrastructures and police pertinent human and animal behavior. Operating on a parallel track were the camparii, or “field-masters,” charged with protecting the city’s hinterlands and thereby the quality of what would reach urban markets, taverns, ovens, and mills.

Roads to Health provides a critical overview of the mandates and activities of the viarii and camparii as enforcers of preventive health and safety policies between roughly 1250 and 1500, and offers three extended case studies, for Lucca, Bologna, and the smaller Piedmont town of Pinerolo. In telling their stories, Geltner contends that preventive health practices, while scientifically informed, emerged neither solely from a centralized regime nor as a reaction to the onset of the Black Death. Instead, they were typically negotiated by diverse stakeholders, including neighborhood residents, officials, artisans, and clergymen, and fostered throughout the centuries by a steady concern for people’s greater health.

G. Geltner is Professor of History at the University of Amsterdam and author of several books including The Making of Medieval Antifraternalism: Polemic, Violence, Deviance, and Remembrance, The Medieval Prison: A Social History, and Flogging Others: Corporal Punishment and Cultural Identity from Antiquity to the Present.

You can view Table of Contents and excerpt, and obtain the book via Penn Press.

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