Our Events

  • Matter into Place: Public Health and Urban Space in the Medieval Low Countries

Online Workshop
Friday, 9 July 2021, 9:00-13:00 CEST


09:00-10:45 Session1: Waterscapes

Janna Coomans, Léa Hermenault (University of Amsterdam)
Water infrastructures and public works as key elements of an economy of movement in Ghent (14th-15th centuries)

Frank Gelaude (University of Antwerp)
Controlling rivers in the medieval city of Ghent

Roos van Oosten (Leiden University)
Water management in a typical Dutch water-rich town

Discussant: Maaike van Berkel (Radboud University Nijmegen)

10:45-11:15: Coffee Break

11:15-13:00 Session2: Crafts, wastes and pollution in the city

Lola Digard (University of Amsterdam)
The influence of guilds and peace procedures on the social, moral and healthcare environment of the late medieval cities of Ghent and Douai, 1350-1500

Ward Leloup (Vrije Universiteit Brussel & Ghent University)
‘Walram the coryer, he stynketh’. The leather industry and the urban environment in late medieval Bruges and Mechelen

Barbora Wouters, Yanik Devos (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
Open spaces, markets, waste management and post pollution in medieval towns through a geoarchaeological lens

Discussant: Marc Boone (Ghent University)

Organizers: Janna Coomans, Lola Digard and Léa Hermenault

You can watch the recording of this workshop here


  • Approaches to Life and Health in Medieval Cities – Online Workshop

Featuring the launch of the Healthscaping WebGIS

Friday, 25 June 2021, 15:00-18:00 CEST/ 9:00-12:00 EST


15:00 Introduction: Launching the Healthscaping Map
Guy Geltner, University of Amsterdam and Monash University

15:10 Mapping Public Health Measures in Late Medieval Bologna
Taylor Zaneri, University of Amsterdam

15:40 Pollution Issues in Late Medieval Bologna from the Fiscal Sources’ Point of View
Rosa Smurra, University of Bologna

16:10 The Demographic and Health Context and Consequences of Plague in Medieval London
Sharon DeWitte, University of South Carolina

17:00 Discussant
Nicholas Terpstra, University of Toronto

You can watch the recording of this workshop here.

  • Pigs and Plague: Public Health and Community in the Late Medieval Low Countries – Online Lecture

Friday, 18 June 2021, 16.00 CEST

Janna Coomans will give a lecture for the digital lectures series organized and hosted every fortnight by Somewhere beyond the Sea, the Belgo-British Research Network. The talk is titled ‘ Pigs and Plague: Public Health and Community in the Late Medieval Low Countries’.


  • Social, Legal and Emotional Aspects of Conflicts in Western Europe, 1300-1600 – Online Workshop

Thursday. 13 May 2021 16:00-18:00 CEST

In premodern societies, the notions of honour and reputation helped to frame social interactions on different scales. On a personal and familial level, pursuing honour was a way to secure economic and social safety through the establishment of networks of professional cooperation and community support. On a communal level, claiming honour was a way to consolidate alliances between cities, states and professional groups. A challenged honour could be the basis for legal disputes or become conflictual, potentially leading to cycles of courtroom battles and violent retaliation that represented a threat to individuals and communities. However, violent retaliations, despite representing a threat to social cohesion on various scales, had the major advantage of restoring social positions, by reclaiming honour. Thus, in premodern societies conflicts around honour were part of a set of behavioural forms that helped define social structures of alliances and division. This set of behaviours, which has been termed an ‘economy of honour’, involved strategies in which the benefits and risks of challenging honour and using violence were carefully calculated, since these behaviours represented economic, social and political risks. In these strategies, legal contests occupied an important position, since the social standing of an individual, and the reputation of a group could help legal decisions to be made in their favour, while proving that the honour of an individual or a group that had been threatened could legally justify violent retaliations that were perceived as necessary to reclaim honour.

Honour and the practices surrounding it are also deeply embedded in social constructs, and the attitudes surrounding honour and violence have evolved across time. While historically minded sociologists such as Norbert Elias, Pieter Spierenburg and Steven Pinker have associated this evolution of attitudes to the ‘civilisation process’ and a subsequent decline of violent interactions surrounding honour, recent scholarship has challenged this view, and has been highly critical of the normative claims embedded in the concept of a civilisation process. Analysis of archival sources conducted by Barbara Hanawalt and Trevor Dean, for instance, has highlighted how court records, guilds and city statutes give a much more nuanced vision of the perceived violence of premodern societies, and demonstrated the many ways in which honour could be displayed, protected and strategically manipulated by individuals and governments to fulfil their agendas. Recent scholarship has also challenged views regarding the groups involved in conflicts surrounding honour, initially perceived as the reserved field of noble men. Manon van der Heijden and Cynthia J. Johnson have highlighted that women actively participated in honour-related conflicts, while Claude Gauvard, Andrea Zorzi and Kate MacGrath have shown how the pursuit of honour was applicable to every layer of society.

This workshop focuses on the way conflicts participated in defining interactions between individuals and groups in Western Europe between the 14th and the 16th centuries. It aims, first, to explore the similarities and differences between honour-related conflicts on different scales. Were honour-oriented conflicts used in the same way to navigate social interactions between individuals and groups? Next, it seeks to interrogate how legal systems were adapted (or not) to handle the honourable aspect of conflicts, and what paths did legal procedures create for the restoration of honour to litigants. Finally, it will investigate how emotions could influence claims to honour and conflictual interactions. On an individual level, how are some forms of violence that lead to loss of honour, if not bodily integrity, tied to self-esteem, self-perception and emotional reactions? On a group level, how can the sense of belonging to a professional association or an urban community influence the emotional and behavioural response to perceived threats to the honour of that group?


  • Scorned honour and ill repute: Emotional, social and legal implications of honour in the pacification office (Ghent, 1350-1400). Lola Digard, Phd Candidate, Universiteit van Amsterdam
  • More things are necessary for a household than four naked thighs”: Honor, material culture and late medieval marriage. Dr. Anna Boeles Rowland, Research Fellow, KU Leuven
  • Trust issues: reputation in conflicts around trade and debt in Northern European cities (c.1400-1550). Christian Manger, Phd Candidate, Universiteit van Amsterdam, and Ester Zoomer, Phd Candidate, Universiteit van Amsterdam

 Respondent: Dr. Daniel Lord Smail, Professor of History, Harvard University


  • Online Seminar: The Dynamics of Healthscaping

Friday, 31 July 2020, 16:00 – 17:00 (CEST)

Urban History summer seminar’s third paper in this series comes from the winners of Urban History‘s Dyos Prize for 2020, Dr. Taylor Zaneri and Professor Guy Geltner. This paper traces how urban communities operating with a humoral or Galenic medical paradigm understood and confronted the health challenges facing them, using the extraordinarily well-documented case of Bologna, Italy. Working within a GIS environment, the authors spatially analyse over 3,500 events recorded by the Ufficio del fango concerning violations of the city’s health-related ordinances, augmented by other demographic and material data. As such, the study not only adds specificity to recent attempts to enrich the field of pre-modern public health, but also demonstrates that the Bolognese administration had a sophisticated and evolving understanding of communal health risks, and exposes several discrepancies between policy and practice.

This talk will be held on Google Meet, the link to which will be made available 48 hours before the talk. This seminar will be recorded and made available online at www.cambridge.org/urbanhistoryseminars.

This seminar series is jointly organised by Urban History and the Urban History Group. We are grateful to the journal’s New Initiatives Fund for initial funding support.

  • The Silk Roads as a Model for Exploring Eurasian Transmissions of Medical Knowledge: Online Workshop

Online Workshop with Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim
Thursday, 28 May 2020, 15:00-17:00 (CEST)

How can we begin to think about transmissions of medical knowledge in medieval Eurasia? What type of work can be done in order to engage with this question?
Can the “Silk Road” help us to engage with this question?
This workshop will discuss some of the directions these questions raise. We will begin our discussion with some of the points I made in “The Silk-Roads as a model for exploring Eurasian transmissions of medical knowledge: views from the Tibetan medical manuscripts of Dunhuang,” (in: Pamela Smith, ed., Entangled Itineraries of Materials, Practices, and Knowledge: Eurasian Nodes of convergence and transformation, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019, pp. 47-62), and continue with some of the broader questions which this chapter raises.

Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim is a Reader in the History Department at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research deals with the history of Asian medicine and the transmission of medical knowledge along the so-called ‘Silk-Roads’, looking at ways in which Asian and European medical knowledge have been interacting. Yoeli-Tlalim has co-edited three volumes with Anna Akasoy and Charles Burnett: Rashīd al-Dīn as an Agent and Mediator of Cultural Exchanges in Ilkhanid Iran (2013); Islam and Tibet: Interactions along the Musk Routes (2011) and Astro-Medicine: Astrology and Medicine, East and West (2008). She has also co-edited (with Vivienne Lo) the Silk Roads Special Issue of Asian Medicine: Tradition and Modernity (2007). Her book ReOrienting Histories of Medicine: Encounters along the Silk Roads, is forthcoming with Bloomsbury (2021). She is a member of the Translating Medicine in the Premodern World working group at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.


  • ‘Public Health’ in the Middle Ages: Healthscaping Urban Europe

Bijeenkomst van de werkgroep ‘History, Health and Healing’
vrijdag 7 februari 2020, 13.00-18.00 uur
Universiteitsbibliotheek locatie Uithof, Heidelberglaan 3, Utrecht (Boothzaal)

Tijdens deze bijeenkomst van de werkgroep HHH presenteren leden van de onderzoeksgroep ‘Healthscaping Urban Europe’ hun onderzoek. Na een inleiding van Prof. Guy Geltner, die het project coördineert, volgen drie presentaties die vervolgens worden gerefereerd door twee specialisten: een in de mediëvistiek, en een in de geschiedenis van public health. Daarna is er plenaire discussie en een borrel.


  • Early Public Health Wikithon

Wednesday, 29 January 2020, 15:30 CET
Bushuis, room F2.08B (Kloveniersburgwal 48 Amsterdam)

Facilitated by Guy Geltner (UvA) and Alice White (Wellcome Trust)

We invite you all to join the Premodern Healthscaping team to make a focused intervention on Public Health History and a handful of related entries on Wikipedia in languages other than English, Dutch, Italian, French and Farsi (as these are already being covered by the team members).

Anyone interested in participating or just following the event on social media, please look at the brief instructions below.

We view this above all as a preliminary exercise to identify the inevitably numerous lacunae that still exist on Wikipedia from your perspective. Feel free to create (and share!) your own “to do” list, and organize follow-up events.

Live tweeting via @ProSanitate #EarlyPubHealth and #Wikithon


  • Representations of Circulation and Flow in Eleventh-Century Urban China – A Workshop with Christian de Pee

Thursday, 6 February 2020, 15:00-17:00.

Oost-Indisch Huis, D2.04 (Kloveniersburgwal 48, Amsterdam)

This workshop is dedicated to discussing Christian de Pee’s recent work on representations of circulation and flow in eleventh-century urban China, as part of his current book project Losing the Way in the City: Urban Life and Intellectual Crisis in Middle-Period China, 800-1100. If you wish to attend the workshop, please contact us (premodern.healthscaping@gmail.com) to receive the text.

Christian de Pee is an associate professor at the University of Michigan and at this moment a visiting scholar at the International Institute for Asian Studies in Leiden. Christian de Pee’s previous publications include The Writing of Weddings in Middle-Period China: Text and Ritual Practice in the Eighth through Fourteenth Centuries and the edited volume Senses of the City: Perceptions of Hangzhou and the Southern Song books.


  • Turning Global with Public Health: How to Move Beyond Networks of Prophylactic Knowledge and Communities of Practice in Preindustrial Europe

Friday, 12 July 2019, 9:00-10:45

Premodern Healthscaping will present recent developments in health history during The Pursuit of Global Urban History conference at University of Leicester.

Chair: Janna Coomans, University of Amsterdam

Organizers: Guy Geltner and Janna Coomans, University of Amsterdam

Panel: Geneviève Dumas, University of Sherbrooke, and Claire Weeda, Leiden University

Taylor Zaneri, University of Amsterdam, and Roos van Oosten, Leiden University

Guy Geltner, University of Amsterdam

This panel will present recent developments in health history that focus on preventative programs in a variety of premodern urban contexts and interrogates their relevance to comparative and global history. Insights achieved by public health historians and medical archaeologists working across western European cities have challenged a common tendency to see public health as a response to the Industrial Revolution, one that was uniquely enabled by modernization. But can pushing against a hegemonic paradigm of Euro-American modernity from the perspective of earlier European experiences provide relevant, non-hegemonic tools for scholars working in different regions and eras, with different sources and intellectual genealogies, but burdened by a similar teleology? Panelists will reflect on their diverse methods of knowledge production and findings as an invitation to discuss emic and non-essentialized approaches to urban health as a fruitful way to pursue global history, on the one hand, and resist the sovereignty of Western periodization on the other.


  • Policing the Urban Environment in Premodern Europe; Symposium and Book Launch

Thursday, 20 June 2019, 14:00-17:00

Bushuis, F2.08B (Kloveniersburgwal 48, Amsterdam)

You are warmly invited to attend the symposium and book launch of Policing the Urban Environment in Premodern Europe, edited by Carole Rawcliffe and Claire Weeda.


Program Symposium

14.00-14.40| Carole Rawcliffe (University of East Anglia)
Cleaning up the Middle Ages: A Few Words about Policing the Urban Environment

14.50-15.30| Fritz Dross (Institut für Geschichte und Ethik der Medizin)
“Portzel” – A Premodern Piece on Public Health and Public Order

15.30-15.50| Coffee and Tea Break

15.50-16.30| Jane Stevens Crawshaw (Oxford Brookes University)
Broken Bridges and Crowded Calle: Policing Urban Ideals and Realities in Early Modern Venice

16.30-17.00| Claire Weeda (Leiden University)
Closing Remarks

The event will be followed by drinks from 17.00 at Café Luxembourg (Spui 24, Amsterdam).


Policing the Urban Environment in Premodern Europe, ed. by Carole Rawcliffe and Claire Weeda, is published by Amsterdam University Press in the series Premodern Crime and Punishment.

Contributors: Elma Brenner, Janna Coomans, Luke Demaitre, Catherine Dubé, Geneviève Dumas, G. Geltner, Annemarie Kinzelbach, Patrick Naaktgeboren, Carole Rawcliffe, Claire Weeda.

Tapping into a combination of court documents, urban statutes, material artefacts, health guides and treatises, Policing the Urban Environment in Premodern Europe offers a unique perspective on how premodern public authorities tried to create a clean, healthy environment. Overturning many preconceptions about medieval dirt and squalor, it presents the most outstanding recent scholarship on how public health norms were enforced in the judicial, religious and socio-cultural sphere before the advent of modern medicine and the nation-state, crossing geographical and linguistic boundaries and engaging with factors such as spiritual purity, civic pride and good neighbourliness.


  • Premodern Healthscaping in China

Saturday, 1 June 2019, 08:30-11:30

Guy Geltner and Taylor Zaneri will present their paper Mapping Health in Medieval Bologna: A Geospatial and Environmental Approach in Renmin University of China (Beijing) during a two-day conference titled The Nature of Health, the Health of Nature: Perspectives from History and the Humanities. You can read more about the conference here.


  • Water, Urban Space and Environment 1200-1700: Workshop with Chloe Deligne

Tuesday, 21 May 2019, 10:00-12:00

Oudemanhuispoort (Oudemanhuispoort 4-6), Room C1.23

As part of the ERC Healthscaping workshop series, Chloe Deligne will host a workshop on water, urban space and environment 1200-1700, with a specific focus on the Low Countries and Brussels.  A complex negotiation and manipulation of water resources, both within cities and in the countryside, created specific social-economic opportunities and challenges for late medieval and early modern people, including concerns of pollution and health risks. This makes water management and the often intricate and highly technical creation of water infrastructures a crucial but still often-overlooked factor shaping local politics and mode of coexistence.

Chloe Deligne is senior researcher at the Fonds de le Recherche scientifique (FRS-FNRS) Brussels since 2006. She has published extensively on the environmental history and the transformation of urban space under the influence of social, cultural, ecological and political factors. Adopting a long-term perspective and socio-spatial analysis are characteristic features of her work.


  • Healthscaping and Ideas of Balance: A Workshop with Joel Kaye

Thursday, 4 April 2019, 13:00-16:00

Vondelzaal, University Library (Singel 425)

Participants are warmly invited to join the workshop with Joel Kaye on ideas of balance and their impact on perceptions of public health in premodern thoughts and practices. Participants can give ten minute presentations on their own research, engaging with Joel Kaye’s A History of Balance, after which a discussion will follow.

Joel Kaye is Professor of History at Barnard College/Columbia University. His scholarly interests center on medieval intellectual history, with special interests in the history of science and the history of economic and political thought. His recent research focuses historical inquiry on the subject of balance. In 2014 he published A History of Balance, c. 1250-1375: The Emergence of a New Model of Equilibrium and Its Impact on Thought (C.U.P.).  In 2015 The American Philosophical Society awarded this book its annual Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History. Previous publications also include Economy and Nature in the Fourteenth Century: Money, Market Exchange, and the Emergence of Scientific Thought.


  • “Models of Balance and Their Role in the Formation of Ideas, 1250-1375” – Public Lecture by Joel Kaye

03 April 2019, 16:00-18:00.

University Library (Singel 425), Doelenzaal

Joel Kaye’s presentation centers on the changing ways that balance has been modeled over historical time and the profound impact these changing models exercise in the realm of ideas.  In the period of European history on which he will focus, and for the most part still today, the sense of balance’s presence or absence underlies the most crucial of human judgments: the assessment of what is ordered or disordered, beautiful or ugly, productive or destructive, healthy or sick.  While we can all recognize the breadth of meaning attached to the ideal of balance, we rarely imagine that this ideal — or the un-worded interior sense that underlies it — is susceptible to major changes within specific historical contexts.  In contrast, he hopes to provide evidence for a series of claims:  1) balance has a history;  2) between approximately 1250 and 1350  a manifestly new sense of balance and its potentialities emerged and evolved within the upper levels of university speculation; 3) this complex new sense found organization and form in a new model of balance, which represented a decisive break with the intellectual past;  4) at the model’s root lay momentous developments in medieval economic life and thought; and finally, 5) due to the utter centrality of balance as an ideal in sphere after sphere of scholastic speculation, profound changes in its modeling over this period had the effect of opening up striking new vistas of speculative possibility, making possible a profound reconceptualization of the world and its workings.


  • Medical History and Legal Systems: Public Lecture by Sara Butler

Monday, 28 January 2019, 17:00-20:00

Belle van Zuylenzaal, University Library (Singel 425)

This workshop will explore the links between medical knowledge and judicial systems in late medieval Europe.

Abstract: Common law was an all-male system, with one glaring exception: juries of matrons. If a convicted felon requested a reprieve from execution on the grounds of pregnancy, it was the responsibility of a group of twelve matrons to perform an inspection in order to determine if she was in fact pregnant. Matrons were in a position of great authority. Their verdicts were definitive: if they decided a woman was pregnant, then she was sent back to prison. Despite the significance of their role, little is known about medieval matrons and what qualified them to sit on a jury. Were they mothers? Honorable wives? Midwives? The goal of this paper is to argue that matrons had training in obstetrics. This was particularly important for medieval matrons because the quickening (that is ensoulment, signaled by the first fetal movements) did not become the focal point of the matrons’ assessment until at least 1348.  Before this, the diagnosis was much more medically challenging as matrons had to determine whether a felon had conceived. Overall, the medieval records demonstrate great confidence in medieval matrons and their obstetrical expertise.

Sara Butler is a professor and King Georges III Chair in British history at the Ohio State University. Her research focuses on the social history of law. Her latest book, Forensic Medicine and Death Investigation in Medieval England (Routledge 2015) explores the use of medical knowledge in legal investigations surrounding death.



  • Preserving the Past in 3D. Application of GIS and Photogrammetry to Human Burials

Thursday, 13 December 2018, 17:00-20:00

Oudemanhuispoort (Oudemanhuispoort 4-6), Room C1.23

Presentation and Workshop with Francesco Coschino and Taylor Zaneri

This workshop presents preliminary results of an urban health analysis of medieval Bologna, as part of the Healthscaping Urban Europe project; this project is examining medieval health in Italy and the Low Countries, from AD 1200 to 1500. What was city life like in medieval Bologna? What were the health risks urban dwellers faced? This research uses GIS to correlate archaeological and historical information relating to urban infrastructure, waste disposal, and population before and after the Black Death. It examines how health and urban cleanliness differed within and around Bologna during this critical period, and how health promoting strategies changed over time.

Francesco Coschino is a Medieval Archaeologist and Paleopathologist at the University of Pisa, Italy. He is the president of IRLAB (Institute for Research and Learning in Archaeology and Bioarchaeology), USA. His research interests involve archaeology, humanistic informatics, paleopathology and physical anthropology; he is particularly interested in computer models and their applications to collection and management of anthropological data. He is involved in anthropological/archaeological research and professional archaeological excavations and collaborates with Italian universities and institutions as well as Ohio State University.

Taylor Zaneri is a medieval archaeologist from New York. Her dissertation research examined the impact of lower-class rural producers in the emergence of the medieval city-state of Lucca, using geospatial, landscape, and zooarchaeological methods. She is currently working as a post-doctoral researcher as part of Dr. Guy Gelter’s Healthscaping Urban Europe project, using GIS to examine health and cleanliness in medieval Italian cities from 1200-1500.

  • Actor-Network Theory and Premodern Historiography: A Workshop with Markus Stauff

Thursday, 29 November 2018, 17:00-20:00

Oudemanhuispoort (Oudemanhuispoort 4-6), Room C1.23

In this workshop, Markus Stauff will discuss some core text on Actor-Network Theory and together we will examine possibilities and limitations of applying this theory to analysing various geographical and historical contexts. To register and receive more detailed information, please send an email to premodern.healthscaping@gmail.com.

Markus Stauff is an Assistant Professor for Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. His fields of research include history and theory of the television; digital media; media sports; governmentality studies and cultural studies.


  • The Path to Pistoia: An Infrastructural Approach to Urban Hygiene before The Black Death

02 November 2018, 16:00-18:00.

Bushuis (Kloveniersburgwal 48), room E1.02.

In the second seminar of UvA Medieval Historians, Guy Geltner will discuss his new artile “The Path to Pistoia: An Infrastructural Approach to Urban Hygiene before The Black Death”.


  • New Horizons in Premodern Public Health: An Interdisciplinary Workshop with Kathleen Davis

Thursday, 4 October 2018, 13:00-16:00

Potgieterzaal, University Library (Singel 425)

During this workshop, members of the research team, in dialogue with Kathleen Davis, discuss various aspects of the Premodern Healthscaping research project.

Kathleen Davis is Professor of English and Medieval Studies at the University of Rhode Island. She has worked in the fields of Old and Middle English literature, translation studies, and postcolonial criticism. Most recently, her engagement with colonial histories and postcolonial theory led her to examine the periodizing process that gave us the categories of the “medieval” and the “modern,” and to investigate the relation of that process to colonial rule. She is the author of Periodization and Sovereignty: How Ideas of Feudalism and Secularization Govern the Politics of Time; and co-editor, with Nadia Altschul, of Medievalisms in the Postcolonial World: The Idea of “the Middle Ages” Outside Europe. Professor Davis has also worked on Old English literature and Old and Middle English translation, and is the author of Deconstruction and Translation.


  • “From Periodization to the Autoimmune Secular State” – Kathleen Davis

03 October 2018, 16:00-18:00.

Bushuis (Kloveniersburgwal 48), VOC room.

My main concern in this talk is the fundamental but often unrecognized work (political, legal, historical) that is accomplished by medieval/modern periodization. By medieval/modern periodization I mean the constitution of the period that we call “the Middle Ages” and its simultaneous distinction from the co-constituted “modern.” I will detail the scope and structure of this periodization and will argue, as I’ve done before, that the constitution of this Middle Ages operated as a space-clearing, exclusionary process that was fully enmeshed with the projects of colonialism. The interrelation of periodization and colonialism was crucial to the formation of academic disciplines and the categories they study, ultimately buttressing both the hegemony of the “modern” that has been so difficult to assail and the apparent undeniability of certain “early modern” events as foundational to politics as it is understood to operate today. It is very difficult to shake off a period concept such as “the Middle Ages” when the effects of its formation saturate every thread of one’s discipline.  I will also argue that the colonial legacy of this periodization fully inhabits the categories of the secular and sovereignty, as well as the intersection of these two, and that it is therefore implicated in the autoimmune process of the secular state, which I will address at the end of this talk.


  • Premodern Public Health: Comparing Cities 1250-1750

Thursday 30th August 2018
Room 22 09:00-10:30, 11:00-12:30

Address: Department of Business Studies – Roma Tre University, Via Silvio d’Amico 77 – 00145 Roma.

This session aims to bring together scholars engaged in research into public health strategies and interventions, and resilience thereto, in late medieval and early modern urban communities. This is a dynamic area of research, which is revealing the myriad of ways in which urban public health policies and practices aimed at creating healthier environments. In particular, a consideration of preventive rather than simply curative measures have revealed new spaces of medical practice, including streets, homes and workplaces alongside large civic healthcare institutions, as well as broader communities of practitioners. Until recently, medical and environmental history’s main focus steered towards post-plague epidemiology, the development of humoural theory, or hospital institutions offering physical and spiritual care. Social and medical historians, together with archaeologists, are, however, increasingly engaging in interdisciplinary research into preventative health measures directed at and/or implemented by an urban public.

Crossing geographical, disciplinary, and linguistic boundaries, this session aims to further increase understanding of how late medieval and early modern urban governments attempted to regulate urban public health through statutes and bye-laws, policed by officials and prosecuted by the judiciary, as well as responses thereto from industries, guilds, brotherhoods, communities and individuals. These dynamics of communication and contestation will be carefully situated within the built environments they helped to shape.


09:00–10:30 The View from the Street: Leet Courts as Agents of Sanitary Policing in Late Medieval English Cities.Carole Rawcliffe
Preserving and Building Healthy Urban Spaces: Solutions and Conflicts in Premodern Imperial Cities and Towns.Annemarie Kinzelbach
Minds in the Gutter: Corruption in Late Medieval Valencia.Abigail Agresta
10:30-11:00 Coffee break
11:00-12:30 Health Matters: Defining the Bonum Commune in Conflicts in Late Medieval Italy and the Low Countries.Claire Weeda
Learning from the Countryside: Field Masters (camparii) and Urban Healthscaping in Later Medieval Piedmont.Guy Geltner
Pre-industrial Water Management in Flemish Metropoli: Drawing from Archaeological Water Facilities.Roos van Oosten

Coordinators: Janna Coomans (j.coomans@uva.nl), Jane Stevens Crawshaw (jane.stevens- crawshaw@brookes.ac.uk), Claire Weeda (c.v.weeda@hum.leidenuniv.nl)

You can find more information at EAUH Conference 2018.


  • New Horizons in Premodern Public Health: A Workshop with Carole Rawcliffe

Thursday 7 June 2018, 15.30-18.00

Potgieterzaal | UB, Singel 425, Amsterdam

This workshop offers an interdisciplinary exchange between several experts in premodern public health. Carole Rawcliffe, author of Urban Bodies: Communal Health in Late Medieval English Towns and Cities (2013), one of the defining publications within the nascent field, will perform as an expert commentator on four presentations, ranging from the cultural history of medicine to urban archaeology.

Carole Rawcliffe is Professor Emerita of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia. She has published widely on the subject of medieval medicine (both spiritual and physical), hospitals, urban health and responses to disease. Together with Claire Weeda, she has edited the forthcoming volume Policing the Urban Environment in Premodern Europe (Amsterdam University Press). Other books include Medicine and Society in Later Medieval England (1995); Medicine for the Soul (1999); Leprosy in Medieval England (2006).  She also co-edited a collection of essays on East Anglia’s History (2002), a two-volume History of Norwich (2004) and a book of essays on Society in an Age of Plague (2011).


15.30-16.00.  Guy Geltner:  “General Introduction and Research Possibilities in Italy: Urban History, Archaeology and Culture”

16.00-16.30. Claire Weeda: “Organic Politics: Tying Together Public Health Theories, Politics and Practices.

16.30.  Break

16.45- 17.15. Roos van Oosten: “Mapping Health in a GIS Environment: Plague”.

17.15- 17.45.  Janna Coomans: “Healthscaping the Late Medieval Low Countries: Agents and Challenges.”

18.00  Drinks



  • Public Lecture – “Premodern Public Health: The End of an Oxymoron?”

Wednesday 18 April, 2018 at Monash University, Australia.

A video recording of the lecture in Monash University “Premodern Public Health: The End of an Oxymoron” is available online: https://arts.monash.edu/news/premodern-public-health-lecture



  • History Research Seminar: “In the Camp and on the March: How Armies Shaped Public Health History in the Premodern World”

Guy Geltner (UvA)

8 March 201815:00–17:00 – VOC-zaal, Bushuis

Public health is widely viewed as a modern pursuit, enabled especially by the emergence of democratic nation states, centralized bureaucracies and advanced medicine. While social, urban and religious historians have begun chipping away at the entrenched dichotomy between pre/modernity that this view implies, evidence for community-level prophylactics in earlier societies also emerges from a group of somewhat unexpected sources, namely military manuals. Texts composed for (and often by) army leaders in medieval Latin Europe, Byzantium and other premodern civilizations spotlight the importance of preventative healthcare well before democratization, mass urbanization and biomedicine, thus paving a new path for historicizing biopolitics from a transregional or even global perspective. Moreover, at least in the context of medieval Europe, military manuals also demonstrate the enduring appeal of Hippocratic and Galenic medicine and how that tradition continued to shape the routines and material culture of vulnerable communities such as armies, centuries after their original articulation.

The lecture is free and open to the public.

Drinks reception to follow. Please contact the organizers if you would like to join the speaker for dinner afterwards, at your own cost.(m.s.parry@uva.nl / J.J.V.Kuitenbrouwer@uva.nl)