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Event Details

Tue, November 14, 2017

18:00 – 19:00

Villa La Pietra
Via Bolognese, 120
50139 Firenze

A lecture by John Henderson, University of London, Birkbeck.

Plague remains a popular topic, as reflected in the continued popularity of the narrative accounts from Defoe to Manzoni to Camus which present vivid fictional recreations of what it was like to live through an epidemic. While it is the liveliness of this type of description which continues to fascinate, many histories of public health have traditionally tended to concentrate on chronicling government policies rather than the lived experience. The top-down approach also reflects the theme of contemporary political and medical rhetoric in surviving records, in which the lower levels of society were often blamed disproportionately as the spreaders and even cause of plague. In contrast, this lecture, which explores the last epidemic of plague to affect Florence in 1630-31, places less emphasis on official views. Instead it will seek to recreate the variety of experience and lively voices of the inhabitants in the city’s streets and neighbourhoods, as reflected in the wide range of trials against those who broke sanitary legislation. While analysing the extraordinary variety of ‘crimes’, from simply adopting survive strategies to robbing empty plague house, we shall also ask whether the draconian punishments prescribed in law were enforced as rigorously as in other Italian cities at the time.

Featured Biographies

John Henderson


John Henderson is Professor of Italian Renaissance History in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, Birkbeck, University of London; and Research Professor at Monash University, Melbourne. He has published a wide range of books and articles in the social, religious and medical history of medieval and renaissance Tuscany. Major monographs include: Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Florence (Oxford UP, 1994; Chicago UP, 1997; Le Lettere, Florence, 1998); The Great Pox. The French Disease in Renaissance Europe, with J. Arrizabalaga and R. French (Yale UP, 1997), and most recently The Renaissance Hospital. Healing the Body and Healing the Soul (Yale UP, 2006; Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart, 2007; Odoya, Bologna,  2016). He has also edited a number of important collections, including: Christianity and the Renaissance, with T.V. Verdon (Syracuse UP, 1990), Poor Women and Children in the European Past, with R. Wall (Routledge, 1994); The Impact of Hospitals in Europe 1000–2000: People, Landscapes, Symbols, with P. Horden and A. Pastore (Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main, 2006; and Plague and the City, with L. Engleman and C. Lynteris (Routledge, 2018). He is at present completing a book on plague in early modern Florence to be published by Yale University Press in 2018.