Plague, Tuscany & the Globalization of the Disease: a three-week summer course (2019) at Georgetown University’s villa in Fiesole (Italy)

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Summer Program
June 29, 2019 to July 19, 2019
Subject Fields: 
Health and Health Care, Intellectual History, Italian History / Studies, Medieval and Byzantine History / Studies, Public Health


       The Black Death is widely credited as the most destructive ecological disaster in European history, claiming the lives of an estimated 40 million people in the years 1346-1352 alone. Due to Italy’s position along major Eurasian and Mediterranean trade routes of the period, its urban population suffered an enormous percentage of that toll. The impacts of plague on human life in medieval Italy has been documented through the literary and artistic production of the period, and have been studied extensively by cultural historians for generations. More recently discoveries and methods from the natural sciences, such as evolutionary biology and palaeoclimatology, have been applied to the topic. What perspective can the biological sciences offer to our understanding of medieval disease burdens? How can ecological history shape the cultural, economic, and even religious dimensions of a society?


         The class presents both micro and macro histories of plague. On the one hand, students learn about and visit multiple plague sites in northern Italy, private and public spaces (like hospitals, foundling homes, churches) constructed to help contemporaries cope with the disease and they take in medieval and early modern art that conveys the magnitude of the mortality Italians witnessed firsthand. Florence and Siena in particular are used as an ‘open book’ on the premodern plague experience.


          On the other hand, the Black Death is presented not as an Italian or European disaster but as an Afro-Eurasian catastrophe. Students are introduced to plausible evidence of the demographic ruin from regions as disparate as East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Greenland.


          Lastly, but distinctively, the course is deeply multidisciplinary. It is at once a history, biology and art history class. Students are introduced to the written and architectural sources for plague as well as to the evolutionary biology of Y. pestis, the bioarcheology and detection of pre-laboratory disease, and the methods of the paleopathologic and paleogenetic sciences. In other words, they come face-to-face with the urban fabric of premodern public health, the written record of mass death, and the bones of medieval plague victims. 


Villa Le Balze (Georgetown University in Fiesole) offers a three-week summer course entitled "Plague, Tuscany & the Globalization of the Disease". The course welcomes non-Georgetown students.


Please find more information below and feel free to contact OGE for further information!


Summer programs application timeline & resources

Villa Le Balze's website

Link to online brochure






Contact Info: 

Office of Global Education Georgetown University

Suite 210, Car Barn

3520 Prospect Street, N.W.
Washington D.C. 20057-1013

Phone: (202) 687-5867

Fax: (202) 687-5944