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Healthy Living in Pre-Modern Europe: The Theory and Practice of the Six Non-Naturals (c.1400-c.1700)

Conference Venue: Institute of Historical Research, Bloomsbury, London.

Conference Dates: 13-14 September 2013

This conference seeks to bring together scholars working on topics related to the role played by the six Non-Naturals in health maintenance in the late-medieval and early modern period. It is well-known that health was thought to depend on the regulation of the six key factors affecting body functions: the air one breathes, sleep, food and drink, evacuations, movement and emotions. In pre-modern medicine careful management of these spheres of life was regarded as crucial if one wished to prevent disease. Yet the study of the Non Naturals has been neglected, as scholars have focused on the development of the concept in medical thought rather than on the advice regarding the individual non-naturals. The only exception concerns the recommendations related to food and diet while the other Non-Naturals have been the object only of general surveys. Even less attention has been paid to the relationship between preventive advice and practice.  This conference intends to address these gaps. Moreover we hope to stimulate discussions which will enable us to compare different regions and countries and to explore changing approaches to the Non-Naturals (and to the underpinning humoural principles) over the period under consideration.


Sandra Cavallo and Tessa Storey


Wellcome Trust


£45 waged £25 student


Olivier Berrou





Healthy Living in Pre-Modern Europe: The Theory and Practice of the Six Non-Naturals


IHR, London, 13-14 September 2013

FRIDAY 13 September

Registration and coffee 9.00-9.30

Introduction 9,30-9.45 Sandra Cavallo, Tessa Storey

The forgotten role of the Non Naturals

9.45-10.15 Hannah Newton (Cambridge),' "She sleeps well & eats an egg": Convalescent Care in Early Modern England, 1580-1720’

10.15-10.45 Leah Atsbury (Cambridge), ‘‘”Ordering the Infant”: The Six Non-Naturals and Physical Care of Newborns in Early Modern England’

10.45-11.15 Marta Ajmar (Victoria and Albert Museum) '"Not a Little Teapot ": interpreting objects and healthy living practices in the pre-modern home'

11.15-12.15 Comments (Peregrine Horden, RHUL) and Discussion  

Lunch 12.15-1.30


1.30-2.00 Natalie Kaouukji (Cambridge), ‘Air rectified: knowledge, physic and the prolongation of life’

2.00-2.30 Frances Gage (SUNY), ‘The Air Over There: Travel and the Regulation of the Non-Naturals, c. 1550-1650’

2.30-3.00 Maria Conforti (La Sapienza, Rome), ‘Neapolitan airs: health prescriptions and medical culture on the edge of the volcano’   

3.00-4.00 Comments (Silvia De Renzi, OU) and Discussion

 Tea 4.00-4,30

Food and Drink

4.30-5.00 Laura Giannetti (University of Miami), ‘Dangerous and forbidden foods: in theory, in practice and in the literary imagination’   

5.00-5.30 Jane Levi (KCUL), 'Eating one's way to a perfect world: balance and regulation of the non-naturals and humours in early modern utopias'

5.30-6.10 Comments (David Gentilcore, Leicester) and Discussion

7.00 Dinner

SATURDAY 14 September


9.00-9.30 Elizabeth Archibald (Durham University), ‘Bathing for Good Health in the Late Middle Ages’  

9.30-10.00 Alison Bumke (Cambridge), ‘“The best Complexion”: Humors and hygiene in Donne’s writing’   

10.00-10.40 Comments (Sandra Cavallo, RHUL) and discussion.

COFFEE 10.40-11.10


11.10-11.40 Carole Rawcliffe (UEA), ‘Exercise for Man and Beast in the Late Middle Ages’   

11.40-12.00 Comment (Tessa Storey, RHUL) and Discussion


12.00-12.30 Sasha Handley (Manchester University), ‘Experiencing Sleeplessness in English Domestic Households c.1660-1730’   

12,30-12.50 Comments (Bill MacLehose, UCL) and discussion

Plenary 13.00-13.30.  Chair: Lauren Kassell (Cambridge)



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