Janna Coomans

Winner Dissertation Prize 2020

In Pursuit of a Healthy City: sanitation and common good in the Late Medieval Low Countries.

Supervisor: Prof. dr. Guy Geltner
Nomination: University of Amsterdam, Faculty of Humanities

Report by the selection committee

The author analyzes all aspects of public health in a comparison between Ghent, Leiden and Deventer in the late medieval Netherlands on a spatial, governance and network level. Extensive archival research has been carried out for this comparison, which is a considerable task for this period. The author convincingly shows that many anti-plague measures previously seen as ad hoc and ill-advised were actually based on pre-existing theories, and many were in place before the plague reached the cities. The jury compliments the strong and clear theoretical framework. In addition, it found the writing style to be very pleasant, which contributes to the high readability for non-specialists. Despite the many different types of sources used, the book is still comprehensible.

The dissertation subject is very important at present and proves the relevance of historical research to contemporary issues. This type of research can serve as a source for dealing with epidemics today, and it can also be taken into account in the design of cities in combination with health-care concerns. A beautiful book in the opinion of the jury.