The place of premodern public health

Series Convenors: Dr Alex Aylward, Professor Erica Charters, Professor Mark Harrison, Dr Catherine M Jackson, Dr Sloan Mahone


stevens crawshaw ideal city

Painting of an Ideal City (c.1480–4) © The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (CC0 license)


Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology

Dr Jane Stevens Crawshaw (Oxford Brookes University)

The place of premodern public health

This presentation explores the ‘place’ of premodern public health broadly conceived.  First it provides an historiographical overview of approaches to public health in Britain and Europe between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Second, it narrows down to explore more literally how premodern urban settings were reshaped during this time in the name of public health and draws on my recent research project, ‘Cleaning Up Renaissance Italy’, to move beyond city boundaries and highlight the close relationship between environmental management and public health.  The paper explores the ways, for example, in which issues of waste management, dredging and flood protection were intended to affect urban health by maintaining or improving the flow or balance of elements in the built and natural environments.  Drawing predominantly from examples from Northern Italy, and the port cities of Genoa and Venice, this paper will illuminate the changing ways in which the management of cleanliness, the environment and natural resources was interconnected with that of health, behaviours and morality, emphasising the close links between the nature of people and place in the premodern context.  The paper ends with comparative consideration of premodern public health beyond Britain and Europe.