Professor John Henderson BA MA PhD FRHistS

Emeritus Fellow

  • Professor of Italian Renaissance History, University of London, Birkbeck College

John Henderson is an historian of renaissance and early modern Italy. His research, principally on Tuscany, has ranged from the study of popular religious practices to poor relief and welfare to the history of epidemic disease from syphilis to plague. His main publications include Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Florence (1994 and 1997) and, with J. Arrizabalaga and R. French, The Great Pox. The French Disease in Renaissance Europe (1997). His latest major book is: The Renaissance Hospital. Healing the Body and Healing the Soul (2006), which is a detailed inter-disciplinary reconstruction of the medical, religious, architectural and artistic environment of the renaissance hospital in Florence. See also: The Impact of Hospitals, 300-2000, ed. John Henderson, Peregrine Horden, Alessandro Pastore (2007).
I am currently writing a book entitled Death in Florence. Plague and society in 17th-Century Tuscany (Yale University Press, London). The remarkable survival of the almost complete records for a major epidemic in Italy, 1630-1631, has made it possible to reconstruct in vivid and moving detail the reactions of all levels of society from the beliefs and practices of medical men, to government officials in coping with plague, to the men and women who ran plague isolation hospitals to the survival strategies of those at the lower levels of society. After plague I shall examine the evolution of public health in Tuscany between 1600 to c.1780, a period characterised by an increased emphasis on the causal relationship between environmental conditions and the health and disease of the urban and rural population. This new empirical approach led to the generation of detailed medical and public health surveys which enable one to test how far where you lived in early modern Tuscany determined your life-chances and how relevant is the idea of the 'urban penalty' for understanding mortality in Mediterranean Europe during the transition from the late renaissance to the Enlightenment.
Finally, I remain fascinated by one of the major themes of my last book, The Renaissance Hospital, the relationship between religion and medicine through function and placement of artistic and commissions and programmes in hospitals in medieval and renaissance Italy.
For further information about John’s publications and teaching interests see: