Humanities Society - ‘The Invisible Enemy’: Fighting Plague in Renaissance Italy

plague doctor
Professor John Henderson Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, Birkbeck, University of London; Emeritus Fellow, Wolfson College
Date 26/05/2020 at 18.00 - 26/05/2020 at 19.00 Where Zoom Webinar
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The Humanities Society holds regular talks during term time. During Easter term 2020, all talks take place as webinars. Make sure to register.

 

plague doctor

The study of plague remains as relevant today as in pre-industrial Europe, especially as we struggle to combat the threat of Covid 19. In this lecture, John Henderson will provide a timely reminder that present-day policies of ‘containment, mitigation and quarantine’ have long historical precedents, just as human reactions of fear and panic are shared across the centuries. He will show how early modern Italy, though well-known as the birthplace of the Renaissance, was also renowned for the precocious development of its public health policies. These have provided the model not just for nineteenth-century policies in combatting plague, but also more recent epidemics from SARS to Ebola and the Corona virus.
This lecture focusses on the development of public health policies in seventeenth-century Tuscany within a wider Italian and European context. The aim is to go beyond traditional oppositions between rich and poor by examining the impact of regulations at the level of the neighbourhood, street and family. Looking behind the optimistic gloss of official printed accounts, John Henderson will examine the often moving and tragic stories of the individuals who ran hospitals, the doctors who treated plague victims, and, above all, of the ordinary men and women left bereft and confused by the sickness and death of family members as they sought to adopt strategies to survive during quarantine and lockdown. 

John Henderson is a Professor of Italian Renaissance History in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, Birkbeck, University of London, and Emeritus Fellow, Wolfson College, University of Cambridge.

Photo credit: Wellcome Collection

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