Public Health & Private Health in Pre-Modern Italy

John Henderson - Director

Aside from politics, the single most frequently discussed topic in the letters of the Mediceo del Principato is health. This enormous early modern archive is brimming with important, unpublished descriptions of the practice of medicine and pharmacy, not just at the Medici court, but also in other major European centers such as Venice, Rome, Paris, Madrid, Vienna and Constantinople. Some of these documentary references to medicine have been entered in the BIA digital platform, but the vast majority remain to be discovered and studied. For this reason, the Medici Archive Project has created a research program specifically dedicated to the scholarly exploration and publication of this archive’s medical material. Entitled “Public Health & Private Health in Pre-Modern Italy” and directed by Prof. John Henderson (Birkbeck, University of London), this program will exploit these archival resources to further the understanding of a number of key themes within this academic discipline.


The history of medicine has only recently begun to be explored seriously by historians of renaissance and early modern Italy. The aim of this program is to examine a series of themes which taken together will shed light on the interconnections between public and private medicine, health and disease in pre and early modern Tuscany. In pursuing these research objectives, this program aims to make a real difference in this exciting new field.

Each theme of the program is carefully designed to address new directions of research in the history of medicine by exploring innovative methodologies and perspectives, and by bringing together scholars working on Italy from around the world. Not only will each theme consider the relationship between theory and practice, but also will provide inter-connections with other fields to make this a truly interdisciplinary project. Furthermore, in line with one of MAP’s main missions, this program will also catalogue, transcribe and put on-line on the BIA platform a representative sample of some of the main documentary sources for the history of medicine to be found in the Florentine State Archives.


  • Epidemics, Plague and the environment
  • Medicines: theory and practice: apothecaries, empirics and materia medica
  • Women and medicine: domestic medicine and women healers
  • Religion and Medicine: hospitals as patrons of the arts

Recent Conferences

In 2013, in collaboration with Villa I Tatti, Harvard’s Center for Renaissance Studies, and Amsterdam University, we organized a major conference in Florence entitled: Practicing Public Health: Europe, 1300-1700).

In 2017, in partnership with the Monash University Prato Centre, we organized a conference entitled: Water in Early Modern Tuscany, 1500-1700.