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Death, Disease and Early Modern City


Module description

Early modern cities were widely, and often rightly, regarded as deadly environments. They contained large concentrations of population, often poorly fed and housed, and drawn from a wide migration pool. Infant mortality was high; diseases such as typhus, smallpox and tuberculosis prospered, and plague epidemics periodically swept through. In this course we will examine the characteristics of disease, demography and mortality in the city, and the medical and social resources which contemporaries drew upon. We also consider the social and psychic impact of mortality, and the interaction of different needs that determined how the dead were buried. We will concentrate on London between c.1550 and 1700, but include comparative study of some other European cities. You will be introduced to the main themes and historiographical debates of this period of study, and encouraged to develop a critical approach to sources and secondary literature.

Indicative Module Content

  • Urban demographics: the history of population; migration; the demography of London
  • Morbidity and mortality: the Bills of Mortality; causes of death; nutrition and disease; mothers and children; the environment; health and social topography; poverty and poor relief
  • Care and cure: medicine and medical practice; professionals and empirics; public health; lay attitudes to health and disease
  • Plague epidemics: epidemiology and impact; public responses; private impacts; the survival of society
  • Dealing with death: old age and the approach of death; wills, willmaking and the good death; funerals; burying the dead: the politics of space; corpses and commemoration