Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities

An interdisciplinary collaboration between the Faculties of Arts and Medicine & Health at the University of Leeds

Dr Alex Bamji

Lecturer in Early Modern History

+44 (0)113 34 33602


I studied for my BA in History and MPhil in Historical Studies at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.  I remained in Cambridge for doctoral study, which involved several extensive periods in Venice, where I immersed myself in archives and Italian culture with equal enthusiasm.  Upon completing my PhD, I took up a temporary lectureship in Early Modern History at the University of Glasgow.  I joined the School of History at Leeds in July 2008.

Research interests

I am a cultural historian of early modern Europe, and I have particular interests in cities, religion, gender and the history of medicine. My research focuses on religious reform, death and disease in early modern society. I am currently completing a monograph on ‘Health, disease and society in early modern Venice’, based on a wide range of archival sources including Inquisition trial transcripts, government legislation and the writings of medical practitioners. My interest in attitudes to death grew out of this research, and I am working on a comparative study of the impact of religious change on experiences of death, which explores mortality, representations of death, and rituals of funerals and burials in the cities of Venice and Nuremberg. The third strand of my research concerns the experience of Catholicism in early modern Italy, to which end I am working on a number of shorter pieces on the Catholic lifecycle, witchcraft and cultural exchange, and the seventeenth-century priorities of the Roman Inquisition.

Current Research Project

Urban decay: health, disease and society in early modern Venice

My British Academy funded project ‘Urban decay: health, disease and society in early modern Venice’ examines how disease was a collective, rather than an individual experience, which can only be understood in the context of a wider culture of religiosity and communal life. The project connects early modern conceptions of disease and health to the strategies of patients and practitioners. The intimate relationship between body and soul, and the complex interactions between individual, community and environment in a cosmopolitan city are central themes. The study highlights the centrality of communication to the Venetian Republic’s public health strategy, and reveals extensive cooperation between the Catholic Church and the Republic in promoting the physical and spiritual health of the city.

Research trips to Italy supported by this grant have turned up some fascinating material. In the Vatican Secret Archive, reports from papal representatives to Venice not only shed light on the communicative relationship between the Republic and the papacy, particularly in years when epidemics caused – or threatened to cause – devastating mortality in their respective jurisdictions, but also furnished unexpected insights into the illnesses of the nuncios themselves. In Venice, documents produced by government magistracies divulged close working relationships with medical practitioners in the city.

Death in Venice and Nuremberg

My project on ‘Death in early modern Venice and Nuremberg’ is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). In the first phase of the project, I carried out research in Venice, Milan and Mantua to analyse what motivated governments and the clergy to compile detailed burial registers, and I explored the language and materiality of these records. A period of research in Nuremberg marked the beginning of the second phase of the project: a comparative study of rituals of funerals and burials in a Lutheran and a Catholic context. This project investigates the impact of religious change on death to expand our understanding of the intersection between political and religious authority and personal experience in a key period of transition in European history.


Alexandra Bamji, ‘The control of space: dealing with diversity in early modern Venice’, Italian Studies 62:2 (2007): 175-188.

Alexandra Bamji, ‘Feature Review: Cultural Exchange in Early Modern Europe’, Canadian Journal of History 43:2 (2008): 501-508.

Mary Laven, Alexandra Bamji and Geert Janssen (eds), Ashgate Research Companion to the Counter-Reformation (Ashgate, forthcoming 2012)

Book reviews for Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Business History Review, European History Quarterly, Forum Italicum, German History, Medicina e storia, Renaissance Quarterly, Renaissance Studies, Social History of Medicine, Women’s History Review.

Postgraduate Supervision

I would welcome enquiries from potential research students with interests in the following areas:

  • the cultural, social and religious history of early modern Italy
  • the history of medicine in early modern Europe


Undergraduate Modules

Faith, Knowledge and Power, 1500-1750 (HIST1060). This first year elective module provides an introduction to some of the central issues in the study of early modern history.  The module traces a path from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, focusing on three themes: religious conflict and controversy, cultures of knowledge, and order and disorder in early modern society.  I co-convene this module with Dr Raphael Hallett.

The Body, Disease and Society in Europe, 1500-1750 (HIST2220). My teaching for this module is inspired by my research interests in the histories of medicine and the body.  Ranging from mortality to monsters and hospitals to hernias, this course traces how ideas about health and responses to disease varied across Europe and developed through the early modern period.

The Cultural History of Venice, 1509-1797 (HIST3382). This special subject developed from my passion for the history of Venice, and draws on an exciting array of primary sources, including diaries, paintings, travel journals, legislation and costume books. The people of Venice – from spies, courtesans and aspiring saints, to shipbuilders and fishermen fighting on the city’s bridges – are at the heart of this course.

Postgraduate Module

Gender and Power in Early Modern Europe (HIST5225). This MA option module draws on my research interests in gender as a fundamental category of historical analysis. In travelling from court to convent and from household to tavern, this module examines the extent to which people’s lives, status and identity were shaped by gender in early modern Europe. I teach this module on the MA in Social and Cultural History, MA in Eighteenth Century Studies and MA in Modern History.

Conference Papers

‘Physicians and identity in early modern Venice’ (Washington DC, 2012)

‘Interpreting mortality in early modern Venice’ (Montreal, 2011)

‘Spiritual bodies/material bodies: souls, sacraments and the supernatural in early modern Venice’ (York, 2010)

‘Esteemed experts: physicians and medical stereotypes in early modern Venice’ (Durham, 2010)

‘Scandalous heresies: the priorities of the Inquisition in seventeenth-century Venice’ (Venice, 2010)

‘Locating popolani in the Venetian parish’ (Venice, 2010)

‘Death in early modern Venice: managing mortality’ (Dublin, 2008)

‘Women healers in early modern Venice:  autonomy, interactions and opportunities’ (Venice, 2008)

‘Burying their differences: monasteries and urban identity in early modern Venice’ (Chicago, 2008)

‘”By the milk of the Virgin Mary let this illness be gone”: healing, superstition and the Inquisition in early modern Venice’ (Glasgow, 2007)

‘Flights of fantasy and the Venetian Inquisition’ (Toronto, 2007)

‘The boundaries of health: regulating the urban environment in early modern Venice’ (London, 2007)

‘The wrath of God and testicular gangrene: rhetoric and realities of disease in early modern Venice’ (Aberdeen, 2007)

Academic-related Activities

I co-convene the University of Leeds Interdisciplinary Renaissance and Early Modern Seminar.

With Filippo de Vivo (Birkbeck) and Mary Laven (Cambridge), I convene the Venetian Seminar, an annual interdisciplinary workshop which brings together scholars of history, art history, literature and linguistics who study Venice and Italy.

From 2008-11 I was a member of the executive committee of History Lab Plus, the network for early career historians. I have organised HL+ workshops on course design (June 2009), academic publishing (February 2010) and employability (July 2010), and have spoken at workshops on ‘Getting a lectureship (November 2008) and ‘Successful lecturing’ (September 2009). I was also an invited speaker at History Subject Centre events on ‘Module design for historians’ and ‘Teaching as an Early Career Historian’ in May 2010 and May 2011.

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