London Bills of Mortality (19 – 21 April 2018)

Owen Williams's picture
January 8, 2018
District Of Columbia, United States
Subject Fields: 
British History / Studies, Cultural History / Studies, Demographic History / Studies, Health and Health Care, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology

The London Bills of Mortality

A Spring Symposium organized at the Folger Institute by 

Vanessa Harding and Kristin Heitman


In the mid-1550s, London’s Court of Aldermen directed the Company of Parish Clerks to compile weekly reports of the number of burials in each City parish that included a cause for each death. These became the famous Bills of Mortality, a significant feature of London life for three centuries, evolving in form and content with the metropolis they recorded. The Bills illuminate aspects of early-modern London’s governance, print culture, and appetite for news. The process of compilation, including reliance on parish “searchers” to determine causes of death, provides clues to social conditions, gender roles, and the interests of the City’s governors. The data reported contribute to understanding the City’s shifting demography and social topography; perceptions of diagnosis, disease, and death; the history of plague; and contemporary interest in quanti­tative knowledge. The symposium aims to bring together scholars working on these topics to examine the early modern Bills in detail—including the Folger’s unique manuscript report from 1591—and to explore their context and significance.

OrganizersVanessa Harding, Professor of London History at Birkbeck, University of London, has written about death and burial in London and about the sources on which estimates of London’s population are based. Forthcoming work on London plague examines annotated copies of the Bills of Mortality and composite or commemorative plague bills. Kristin Heitman is an independent scholar based in Bethesda, Maryland, whose interests center on metrics and systems of records. Her current work concerns the origins of the Bills of Mortality and the life of John Graunt.

Schedule: Thursday evening, Friday, and Saturday, 19 – 21 April 2018. Visit for details

Apply8 January 2018 for admission and grants-in-aid at

Contact Info: 
Owen Williams, Ph.D.
The Folger Institute | Folger Shakespeare Library
Assistant Director, Scholarly Programs
201 East Capitol Street, SE | Washington, DC 20003
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