Death in early modern Venice
Alex Bamji is an Associate Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Leeds. She holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge. Her research examines religious reform, death, and disease in early modern society, with a focus on lived experience, space, materiality, and the city of Venice. She has published on ephemeral print and public health, medical care in early modern Venice, and the Catholic life cycle; and she is co-editor of The Ashgate Research Companion to the Counter-Reformation (2013) and La chiesa e l’ospedale di San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti (Marcianum Press, 2015).
Why did death and the dead matter so much to urban communities? Focusing on the city of Venice, this project evaluates the entanglement of death with religious and social change through an interdisciplinary analysis of documentary, visual, and material evidence. The study addresses three questions: how did people die, what did the living do with dead bodies, and how did death bring people together? The examination of mortality encompasses disease, accidents, homicide, and suicide, paying close attention to why certain causes of death provoked anxiety. Care for the dead body had to be reconciled with the practicalities of decay, decomposition and disposal. This study traces important changes in the physical and metaphorical place of the dead in the urban community and reveals how dynamics of hierarchy and marginalization played out in death as in life. The role of newly-established confraternities is highlighted as a key development in devotional practices related to death. This research seeks to make two main contributions to scholarship. First, it will reshape our understanding of the process of Catholic reform and renewal, by casting the laity as active participants in religious change and emphasizing their spiritual commitment and power to shift devotional practices. Second, it will remind urban historians that they must account for the agency of the dead, as well as the activities of the living, in their assessments of space, materiality, and mobility.