Urban decay: health, disease and society in early modern Venice


My British Academy funded project 'Urban decay: health, disease and society in early modern Venice' examines how disease was a collective, rather than an individual experience, which can only be understood in the context of a wider culture of religiosity and communal life. The project connects early modern conceptions of disease and health to the strategies of patients and practitioners. The intimate relationship between body and soul, and the complex interactions between individual, community and environment in a cosmopolitan city are central themes. The study highlights the centrality of communication to the Venetian Republic's public health strategy, and reveals extensive cooperation between the Catholic Church and the Republic in promoting the physical and spiritual health of the city.

Research trips to Italy supported by this grant have turned up some fascinating material. In the Vatican Secret Archive, reports from papal representatives to Venice not only shed light on the communicative relationship between the Republic and the papacy, particularly in years when epidemics caused - or threatened to cause - devastating mortality in their respective jurisdictions, but also furnished unexpected insights into the illnesses of the nuncios themselves. In Venice, documents produced by government magistracies divulged close working relationships with medical practitioners in the city.