Bill Kent Memorial Lecture – Coping with Plague: Public health and Epidemics in Renaissance

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Event Details

5 October 2017 at 6:00 pm – 5 October 2017 at 8:30 pm
Plenary Room and Garden Patio, Monash College, Level 7, 271 Collins Street, Melbourne; Enter via Flinders Lane, South Lift to Level 7
Alumni; Faculty of Arts; Monash College


Each age faces the challenge of a new epidemic, whether it is cholera, tuberculosis, AIDS, SARS, Bird Flu or Ebola. Plague, however, has remained a paradigm against which reactions to other epidemics have been judged. In the 2017 Bill Kent Memorial Lecture, John Henderson will reveal that early modern Italy, though best known for the birth of the Renaissance, is also renowned for the precocious development of its public health policies to cope with epidemic disease.

Focusing mainly on 17th-century Tuscany, John Henderson will argue that it is time to re-assess early modern Italian policies dealing with plague within a wider context of measures adopted by other European cities and states and more generally during the Third Plague Pandemic, especially as early modern Italy has often been seen as providing the model for 19th– and 20th-century public health strategies. These include isolation and quarantine. Henderson’s approach is to look behind the optimistic gloss of official printed accounts to examine the often moving and tragic stories of the individuals who ran hospitals, the doctors who treated plague victims, and above all of the ordinary men and women left bereft and confused by the sickness and death of family members. These vivid accounts reflect one of the main themes of Bill Kent’s work, the strength of neighbourhood and family ties. The way in which governments and individuals dealt with plague are as relevant today, as we struggle to deal at the national, local and personal level with emergencies occasioned by natural disasters and outbreaks of epidemic disease.

Please register by October 4 at

JOHN HENDERSON is one of the leading social historians of renaissance and early modern Italy. He is Professor of Italian Renaissance History in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, Birkbeck, University of London; Research Professor at Monash University, Melbourne; and Fellow of Wolfson College, University of Cambridge.

John has published a wide range of books and articles on the social, religious and medical history of medieval and renaissance Tuscany. Major monographs include: Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Florence (Oxford University Press, 1994; Chicago University Press, 1997); The Great Pox. The French Disease in Renaissance Europe, with J. Arrizabalaga and R. French (Yale University Press, 1997), and most recently The Renaissance Hospital. Healing the Body and Healing the Soul (Yale University Press, 2006). He is at present completing a book on plague in early modern Florence for Yale University Press. He has also edited a number of important collections, including: with T.V. Verdon), Christianity and the Renaissance, Syracuse, 1990; (with R. Wall), Poor Women and Children in the European Past, London, 1994; (with P. Horden and A. Pastore), The Impact of Hospitals in Europe 1000–2000: People, Landscapes, Symbols, Frankfurt am Main, 2006; and (with L. Engleman and C. Lynteris), Plague and the City, London, 2018.

Bill Kent Foundation Fund

The Bill Kent Foundation Fund was established in 2010 to further the work of Professor Bill Kent, renowned scholar of the Italian Renaissance and Founding Director of the Monash University Prato Centre.

Bill Kent’s career was long and distinguished. He was a widely published historian of the Florentine Renaissance and a world authority on Lorenzo de’ Medici.