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I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book; and teach the history of printing at other institutions. I research language usage during the First World War, and lead the Languages and the First World War project. Author of Discovering Words, Discovering Words in the Kitchen, Evolving English Explored, Team Talk - sporting words & their origins, Trench Talk - the Language of the First World War (with Peter Doyle); How to Cure the Plague; The Finishing Touch; and Words and the First World War. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.


Monday, 5 November 2012

Public administration in the time of pestilence

Hereafter I will wright what Magistrats and their officers should doo in time of pestilence, to preserve the people from great ruin.

All Magistrates and their officers when the pestilence doth reign should with all diligence govern and rule their subjects, unto the which there appertaineth five things.

The first is not to put them in such feare, as now a dayes the most parte do, taking them from their houses feafully carrying them unto the Hospitalls, where a number sick of the pestilence are, for the which cause if they were not infected, that terror were enough to kil them, and this is the first thing to be considered.

The second thing is to cause the Phisitions to helpe them, for there is no such cruel disease, but that the Phisitions in short times may finde remedy for it.
The third is to visit them often times and to comfort them with good words and not to let them lack victuals, least that the necessities and feare might cause the infirmitie and death.

The fourth is to let them remaine in their houses and to give them those things that are necessary for them so that they may be cheerful and wel willing.

The fifth and last thing that should be done is to leave their goods, and not to take and burn them, but to preserve them from the other people, and this doing they shall not be afraid, for this is the best way that can be found in the worlde; and therefore happy shall that Cittie be and those people where the Magistrats and officers do use these orders that I have heer prescribed.

From A Joyfull Jewell, Leonardo Fioravanti, trans John Hester, 1579

Fioravanti was working in Bologna in the mid-sixteenth century. What is noteworthy is the need to state these points, with the implication that on occasions they were ignored; so that plague-affected cities must have been left without administration, doctors, and with looting and forcible removal. He has a perhaps naive trust in doctors’ ability to find a cure, but this is an early example of a public health administration programme in a time of crisis.  

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