Underground and Over the Sea: More Community Prophylactics in Europe, 1100-1600

By Guy Geltner and Claire Weeda

AbstractPublic health historians have repeatedly shown that the theory, policy, and practice of group prophylactics far predate their alleged birth in industrial modernity, and regularly draw on Galenic principles. While the revision overall has been successful, its main focus on European cities entails a major risk, since city dwellers were a minority even in Europe’s most urbanised regions. At the same time, cities continue to be perceived and presented as typically European, which stymies transregional and comparative studies based at least in part on non- or extra-urban groups. Thus, any plan to both offer an accurate picture of public health’s deeper past and fundamentally challenge a narrative of civilizational progress wedded to Euro-American modernity (“stagism”) would benefit from looking beyond cities and their unique health challenges. The present article begins to do so by focusing on two ubiquitous groups, often operating outside cities and facing specific risks: miners and shipmates. Evidence for these communities’ preventative interventions and the extent to which they drew on humoral theory is rich yet uneven for Europe between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. Methodological questions raised by this unevenness can be addressed by connecting different scales of evidence, as this article demonstrates. Furthermore, neither mining nor maritime trade was typically European, thus building a broader base for transregional studies and comparisons.

You can read this Open Access article here.

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