The MedHeal Seminar 2019: Public Health Development and Social Practice Patterns

Friday, September 20,  09:00–16:00.
Trondheim, University Museum (Vitenskapsmuseet), Schøning House, 2nd floor, meeting room Hugin.


9.00-915: Axel Christophersen: Welcome, introduction to the MH seminar 2019: Task and expectations.

A. Short reports from WP 1: Nutrition and environment
9.15 – 9.45: Paula Utigard Sandvik: Plant remains and nutrition
9.45 -10.15 Terje Thun: Climate conditions: Stability and change
10.15-10.30: Coffee break
10.30-11.00: Marie Joseé Nadeau: the isotope analysis: Results and challenges (if any!)
11.00 -11.30: Summing up WP1: How to proceed?
11.30-12.15: Lunch at the SIT cafeteria (next to the venue place)

B. Short reports from WP2: Water, waste and infectious diseases
12.30 -13.00: Elisabeth: PdD-Status and plans
13.00 -13.30: Åshild Vågene: Report from the DNA-analysis: Status and potentials
13.30 -14.00: Sean Denham//Hege Hollund: Report from the osteo- and histo archaeological analysis: Status and potential
14.00-14.15: Coffee-break
14.15 -14.45: Plenum, summary WP 2: How to proceed?

C. Report from WP 3: Public health development and social practice patterns
14.45-15.15: Erik/Ole Georg: Summing up yesterday’s workshop: ideas and potential for future research.
15.15-15.30: Plenum, summary WP 3: How to proceed?
15.30-16.00: Summing up, the way forward

There will be a seminar dinner on Thursday, September 19, at restaurant Troll at 19:00.

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“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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The Kiln, the Alembic, and the Clockwork: Inside the CSMBR Summer School

A Report by Lola Digard

The Centre for the Study of Medicine and the Body in the Renaissance (CSMBR) is an international institute of advanced studies belonging to the Fondazione Comel. Between the 29th and the 31st of March, the centre held a summer school entitled The Kiln, The Alembic and The Clockwork, in Pisa, in which I participated. This summer school gathered mostly young researcher around a few experienced keynote speakers, amongst which some famous names, such as Vivian Nutton, to discuss the transmission of medical knowledge from the Greek masters of antiquity to the Renaissance man. 

The summer school is open to anyone, but the Fondazione awards five participation grants each year to allow young researchers to not only attend the summer school, but also share their research with the rest of the participants. Each day was organized around several presentations by the keynote speakers, followed by a discussion. The afternoon was concluded by a round table where participants were encouraged to discuss a chosen subject, presented through (audio)visual, textual and sometimes musical supports. Each day ended by a visit of a cultural site in Pisa, and the participants were invited to dinner on the last evening.

I cannot begin to describe my experience, without saying a few words about the amazing place that is the domus Commeliana, home of the Fondazione in Pisa. Located right next to the leaning tower, which oversees its gardens, the villa is the ideal space to assemble and discuss ideas, in the Italian sun and tradition. 

The concept of a summer school, rather than a conference, is really put forward by the organizers with the idea of creating an atmosphere that encourages debates and discussions, and allows younger scholars to feel comfortable engaging with the more experienced ones. Each intervention was well framed and made accessible to all researcher interested in the history of medicine, since (and that was also one of the interests of this event) the present researchers had a very varied set of specializations. Indeed, the award winning presentations included subjects as diverse as the conception and production of prosthetic limbs in 16th century Germany, or the redaction by authors otherwise known for their scientific production, of poetic texts with a scientific subject. 

One of the highlights of the summer school was the possibility of exchanging ideas with scholars interested in such a variety of subjects. Being able to engage with these speakers, and with other young scholars was a great experience for everyone, and lively conversations took place both during lunch and breaks, but also in the evening, when we dinned in the great Pisan restaurants recommended by the organizers. The work of Tomaso Maria Pedrotti Del’Acqua, who is in charge of the Fondazione in Pisa, helped put everybody at ease, and create the warm atmosphere that presided the debates. 

In terms of the content, the school reached its  announced goal of “exploring  how the representation of the body and its functions changes from antiquity to the early modern period and how technology alters the perception of what we are as human animals.” 

Each day was dedicated to a specific scientific process, both inside and outside the body, and connected to the technological analogy usually used to represent this concept, i.e. the process of combination and concoction of humors was discussed along the analogy of the kiln. This approach allowed to explore how the intercommunication of technology and medical science was beneficial for the development of both fields, and how technological advances modified the perception of the physical body. 

The wide temporal scope proposed by the program was addressed by the intervention of scholars such as Vivian Nutton and Hiro Hirai on the one hand, whose comparative work gave an in-depth analysis of the transmission of antique medical knowledge to renaissance thinkers. The interventions of scholars more specifically concerned with Renaissance perspectives derived from ancient Greek concepts, such as Fabrizio Bigotti and Benjamin Goldberg on the other hand, outlined how the multiplicity of knowledge of certain personalities of the Renaissance allowed them to combine medical and technical abilities to develop new perceptions of the body. As often, the discussion slightly leaped over some important interventions of the medieval period. This position can however be justified by the focus of the centre and the participants on the early modern period. 

The subjects discussed during these three days made me reflect on the possibility of using actor-network theory to explore the influence of technological innovations on the development of medical knowledge and health initiatives. For example, did the technologies developed in the Low Countries to control water flows in cities lead to the development of medical technologies designed to control humoral flows in the body? 

However, the most relevant insight I got from my participation to the summer school came from my exchanges with other scholars. Several of the participants told me that one of the experiences that helped them understand the challenges of acquiring and communicating medical knowledge in a technological context far different from ours, was attending a medical autopsy. If the idea first seemed a bit surprising (and quite frankly not really appealing), I quickly realized how insightful it could be. Whether it be from science classes or the doctor’s office, the general image we have of the interior of the body, is one of neatly separated organs, usually each coloured in a different shade of red or blue, easily identifiable. The reality of opening a corpse is far different from this aesthetically pleasing and easily understandable image of the body. And even then, in modern autopsies, whether of legal or medical interest, technologies allows us to keep some of the most trivial aspects of opening a corpse, such as the smell, at bay. These conversation with other scholars convinced me that the challenges that understanding the body represented in the medieval context can be better understood by coming in contact with the reality of the corpse. That is why I have decided to get in contact with medical universities to see if I could attend an autopsy. If my attempts are successful, I will describe my experience in a future post. 

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CFP: Medicine in the Medieval North Atlantic World

Call for Papers: Medicine in the Medieval North Atlantic World

19–21 March 2020

Maynooth University, Ireland

This interdisciplinary conference, jointly funded by the Irish Research Council and the British Academy, explores the reception and transmission of medical knowledge between and across England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and Scandinavia during the medieval period, and will draw on history, literature, philosophy, science, religion, art, archaeology and manuscript studies. It will interrogate medical texts and ideas in both Latin and vernacular languages, addressing questions of translation, cultural and scientific inheritance and exchange, and historical conceptions of health and of the human being within nature.

We welcome proposals for papers of 20 minutes in length (+ 10 minutes of discussion) as well as proposals for postgraduate research posters. Contributions might engage with, but are not limited to:

  • Literature
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Theology
  • Philosophy
  • Science and technology
  • The body and the soul
  • Charms
  • Leechbooks/Remedies
  • Surgery
  • Wounds (visible and invisible)
  • Health policy
  • Medicine and law
  • Medicine and religion
  • Relationship between the human and non-human
  • Gender and medicine
  • Music/Art as medicine
  • Diet and medicine
  • Physical activity and medicine
  • Medical drawings/illuminations

Proposals (250-300 words) are to be sent to by no later than 15 October 2019, and should contain the following information:

Name; Institutional affiliation (if any); email

Confirmed speakers: Dr Debby Banham (University of Cambridge); Prof. Guy Geltner (University of Amsterdam); Prof. Charlotte Roberts (Durham University)

Organising committee: Dr Sarah Baccianti (Queen’s University Belfast); Dr Siobhán Barrett, Dr Bernhard Bauer and Dr Deborah Hayden (Maynooth University)

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

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

July 12, 9:00-10:45


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.

You can find more information about the conference and the panel here.

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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.


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Premodern Healthscaping in China

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.

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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.

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Forthcoming: “Policing the Urban Environment in Premodern Europe” Edited by Claire Weeda & Carole Rawcliffe

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.

You can read more about this forthcoming volume here.

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“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.

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 on the 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.

Please contact to receive the pre-circulated readings.

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