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

Public lecture, organised by Premodern Healthscaping Research Project and Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis.

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.

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.

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New Article by Guy Geltner: “In the Camp and on the March: Military Manuals as Sources for Studying Premodern Public Health”

Abstract: Historians tend to view public health as a quintessentially modern phenomenon, enabled by the emergence of representative democracies, centralized bureaucracies and advanced biomedicine. While social, urban and religious historians have begun chipping away at the entrenched dichotomy between pre/modernity that this view implies, evidence for community prophylactics in earlier eras also emerges from a group of somewhat unexpected sources, namely military manuals. Texts composed for (and often by) army leaders in medieval Latin Europe, East Rome (Byzantium) and other premodern civilizations reflect the topicality of population-level preventative healthcare well before the nineteenth century, thereby broadening the path for historicizing public health from a transregional and even global perspective. Moreover, at least throughout the Mediterranean World, military manuals also attest the enduring appeal of Hippocratic and Galenic prophylactics and how that medical tradition continued for centuries to shape the routines and material culture of vulnerable communities such as armies. (Preprint version)

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Premodern Healthscaping in European Association for Urban History Conference 2018

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.

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New Publication by Claire Weeda: ‘Reviewing Conduct Books: Galenic Medicine and the “Civilising Process” in Western European Households c.1100–1300’

C. Weeda, ‘Reviewing Conduct Books: Galenic Medicine and the “Civilising Process” in Western European Households c.1100–1300’, in Christopher M. Woolgar (ed.), The Elite Household in England, 1100-1550: Proceedings of the 2016 Harlaxton Symposium (Donington, 2018), 167-184.

Abstract: In western Europe conduct books offering advice to young students and aristocrats on how to behave in a social environment began to appear in the twelfth century. They played a substantial role in guiding and governing the behaviour of members of the elite and urban households and feature in historical discussions as an important accelerator of as well as testimony to the so-called civilising process in western European court society, structuring and disciplining the social behaviour of members of the body politic who were trying to gain access to power. However, as this chapter argues, an overlooked aspect of these fresh conduct manuals, which partly drew on the Latin Catonic tradition of teaching morals and manners to young students, was their concerns over health and hygiene. Engaging with the newly introduced medical theories in Graeco-Arabic texts translated in Spain, Sicily, southern Italy and Byzantium from the late eleventh century, clerics in the centres of learning such as Salerno, Paris or Bologna absorbed medical knowledge about healthy behaviour as part of the staple education, thereupon infusing it into manuals of conduct written for young men aspiring to be prudentes, good citizens. This chapter examines a number of these educational tracts from the twelfth- and early thirteenth-century and the presence of such arguments of health and hygiene in them, arguing they attest an understanding that health, hygiene and social status were intertwined.

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Convegno storico internazionale


TODI, 14 – 16 OTTOBRE 2018




Fondazione Centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo

Via dell’Arringo, snc – Palazzo Arroni
06049 Spoleto (PG)
Tel.: +39 0743.225630  Fax.: +39 0743.49902
cisam@cisam.org      www.cisam.org

Programma Convegno Download

Concorso a borse di studio Download

Applicazione del Regolamento UE n. 679/2016 in materia di protezione dei dati personali (GDPR)

Il Regolamento UE n. 679/2016 (General Data Protection Regulation – GDPR) costituisce lo strumento normativo individuato per uniformare la gestione e la sicurezza dei dati personali coinvolgendo tutti gli stati membri dell’Unione Europea ed è in sintesi volto a mantenere un maggior controllo sulla protezione, la sicurezza e la condivisione dei dati personali.

La Fondazione Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo (CISAM), la quale già tratta i dati personali dei propri iscritti e li conserva in modo sicuro, utilizzandoli esclusivamente per informare i medesimi sulle attività della Fondazione, in ottemperanza agli obblighi previsti dal predetto Regolamento UE n. 679/2016 (GDPR), entrato in vigore lo scorso 25 maggio, sta provvedendo all’adeguamento della propria politica sulla privacy per renderla in linea con i nuovi requisiti imposti dal provvedimento.

Sarà quindi cura della Fondazione informarvi, una volta perfezionato il processo di adeguamento, in merito alle nuove impostazioni di gestione dei dati personali ed alla prestazione del consenso in relazione alle diverse finalità del relativo trattamento, in conformità al Regolamento UE n. 679/2016.

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

Thursday 7 June, 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

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New Book by Guy Geltner – Roads to Health: Infrastructure and Public Wellbeing in Later Medieval Italy

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.

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New Article by Janna Coomans: “The king of dirt: public health and sanitation in late medieval Ghent”

Abstract: Taking the office of the coninc der ribauden in Ghent as a case-study, this article reconstructs the enforcement of urban sanitation and preventative health practices during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The coninc managed a wide range of issues perceived as potentially polluting, damaging or threatening to health. Banning waste and chasing pigs as well as prostitutes off the streets, the office implemented a governmental vision on communal well-being. Health interests, as part of a broader pursuit of the common good, therefore played an important yet hitherto largely overlooked role in medieval urban governance.

You can have access to Janna Coomans’ article through Cambridge University Press.

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Premodern Public Health: Lecture Now Online

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

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


Wednesday 18 April, 2018 at Monash University, Australia.

For more information, please contact Jocelyne Mohamudally
 (Email: jocelyne.mohamudally@monash.edu), or visit: https://arts.monash.edu/about/sophis.

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