David Gentilcore

David Gentilcore
Résidents Labex RFIEA+
Résidents Programme EURIAS

dates de séjour

11/09/2017 - 13/07/2018


Histoire moderne

Fonction d’origine


Institution d’origine

Centre for Medical Humanities and School of History, University of Leicester (Royaume-Uni)

pays d'origine


projet de recherche

The Best of All Things: Drinking Water in the Mediterranean, 1400-1900

‘Water is the best of all things’, according to Pindar’s First Olympian Ode (476 BC): on it all human life depends. It is a resource, but on a wide range of levels: economic, social, cultural and political. Water has a significance that is both local and transnational. It thus constitutes a privileged base from which to reconstruct the identity and self-representational forms of any population and culture.
The focus of the project will be on drinking water, placing it within the context of the much wider ‘water culture’ of the Mediterranean during the early- and late-modern period. By ‘water culture’, I mean both material aspects (such as hydraulic engineering or water legislation) and nonmaterial features (such as beliefs and practices).


Drinking water, both as substance and as cultural and social practice, is the least studied aspect of water culture. Mineral water is just a starting point in the ‘Best of All Things’ project. It will focus on the period beginning with the great resurgence in hydraulic engineering projects and medical interest in water consumption, ushered in by the Renaissance, to the pandemics of the 19th century and the resulting urban waterworks of the late nineteenth century. The approach will be interdisciplinary, bringing together anthropology, geography, archaeology and various branches of history (history of medicine, food history, architectural history). Although all societies are in some sense hydraulic, dependent as they on water management and distribution; nowhere is this more important than the Mediterranean, where fresh water has always been unpredictable.


I joined the Department of History at the Leicester in 1994 as Wellcome Trust Lecturer in the History of Medicine, following a research fellowship at the Cambridge Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, and a stint as director of the Canadian Academic Centre in Italy (Rome). During 2003-2008, I was a core member of the Wellcome Trust Strategic Award in ‘Cultures and Practices of health’, held jointly at the Universities of Warwick and Leicester. I have been visiting fellow at the School of Advanced Study, University of London; Hannah Visiting Professor at McMaster University, Canada (2001-2); visiting professor at Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies (Florence, 2006). I held a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship (2007-10) to pursue my project on the reception and assimilation of New World plants in Italy. I am currently Principal Investigator on the ‘Rough Skin’ project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (2013-16), which investigates the effects of the pellagra epidemic. I am the author of seven books and was awarded the Royal Society of Canada’s ‘Jason A. Hannah’ medal for Medical charlatanism in early modern Italy (Oxford 2006) and, in 2012, the ‘Salvatore De Renzi International Prize’ by the Università degli Studi di Salerno for my work in the history of medicine. I am book reviews editor for the peer-reviewed journal Food & History (published by the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food & Brepols).