The Centre for the History of Science and Medicine and CLAMS present: Water and Health in Late Medieval Normandy
The rivers and streams that ran through late medieval towns and cities were a source of both ill health and sustenance. Contemporaries recognised that there was a connection between polluted water and disease, but also knew that the ready availability of water was essential to the wellbeing and prosperity of the urban population. This lecture investigates the place of water in thinking about health, disease and the environment in late medieval Normandy, one of the major zones of civic, commercial and religious life in France in this period. It considers how water sources were maintained and regulated by municipal and ecclesiastical authorities, as well as monastic communities, and how water featured in concerns about epidemic disease. These concerns stemmed from the notion that disease was transmitted via corrupt air emanating from waste-filled or stagnant water. The lecture also takes account of the strong spiritual associations of water, especially with baptism and miraculous healing, and reflects upon how these associations influenced people’s relationship with water. The analysis addresses not only rivers and streams but also piped water systems, sewers, ponds, ditches and marshy land, as well as the sea. Water is considered as a destructive force, since flooding was a major concern at this time, and as a source of cleanliness and purity. The role of water in medical treatment, from bathing to the medicinal waters supplied by apothecaries, will also be discussed.
Dr Elma Brenner is research development specialist for the medieval and early modern collections at the Wellcome Library, London. She is also an associate member of the Centre de recherches archéologiques et historiques anciennes et médiévales of the Université de Caen Basse-Normandie. She undertook postdoctoral research at the Universities of Cambridge (2008–2011) and Toronto (2011–2012), and has co-edited two volumes of essays, Memory and Commemoration in Medieval Culture (with Meredith Cohen and Mary Franklin-Brown; Ashgate, 2013) and Society and Culture in Medieval Rouen, 911–1300 (with Leonie V. Hicks; Brepols, 2013). Her book, Leprosy and Charity in Medieval Rouen, was published by Boydell & Brewer in the Royal Historical Society’s Studies in History New Series in 2015.