Professor David Gentilcore

Honorary Professor of Early Modern History

David GentilcoreContact details

Personal details

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).My interests lie in the medical, dietary, social and cultural history of early- and late-modern Italy, and have ranged from studies on popular religion during the Counter-Reformation, healers and healing in the Kingdom of Naples, the licensing and operations of medical charlatans in early modern Italy, through to food and health in early- and late-modern Europe as a whole. I am currently beginning a new project on the cultures of water in early modern Italy.

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).

During 2003-8, 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. From 2007-2010 I held a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship to pursue a project on the reception and assimilation of New World plants in Italy, and from2013-2016 I was Principal Investigator on the ‘Rough Skin’ project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, which investigated the effects of the pellagra epidemic in northern Italy.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),and a EURIAS senior fellow, Institut d'études avancées (IMéRA), Aix-Marseille Université, France (2017-2018)


‘From “vilest beverage” to “universal medicine”: drinking water in vernacular regimens and health guides, 1450-1750’, Social History of Medicine (in press).

Proteins, pathologies and politics: dietary innovation and disease from the nineteenth century (co-edited with Matthew Smith), London: Bloomsbury (in press).

'Americans in Italy: the impact of New World plants, 1500-1800', in L. Markey and E. Horodowich, eds. The discovery of the New World in Early Modern Italy: Encounters with the Americas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017)

'Caught between unorthodox medicine and unorthodox religion: revisiting the case of Costantino Saccardini, charlatan-heretic', in L. Nyholm Kallestrup, ed. Contesting orthodoxy in early modern Europe (London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2017), 57-68

VMAD: Venetian Mental Asylums Database, 1842-1912 (SN 8058): co-authored with Egidio Priani, deposited at UK Data Service, July 2016. Includes dataset and supporting documentation.

‘Louis Sambon and the clash of pellagra etiologies in Italy and the United States, 1904-15’, The Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 2015, in press (epub available).

Food and health in early modern Europe: diet, medicine and society, 1450-1800 (London: Bloomsbury, 2015).

‘Peasants and pellagra in 19th-century Italy’, History Today, 64 (Sept, 2014), pp. 32-8.

‘“Con trattenimenti e buffoniane”. Ciarlatani, protomedici e le origini di un gruppo professionale’, in Interpretare e curare.Medicina nel Rinascimento, M. Conforti, A. Carlino, A. Clericuzio, eds. (Rome: Carocci, 2013).

Tempi sì calamitosi: epidemics and public health’, in A companion to early modern Naples, T. Astarita, ed. (Leiden: Brill, 2013), pp. 281-306.

‘“Italic scurvy”, “pellarina”, “pellagra”: medical reactions to a new disease in Italy, 1770-1830’, in A medical history of skin: scratching the surface, J. Reinarz and K. Siena, eds. (London: Pickering and Chatto, Studies for the Society for the Social History of Medicine, 2013), pp. 57-69.

More publications


I teach a range of undergraduate modules on the history of early modern Europe, including, ‘Culturea and society in early modern Italy’, ‘Food, diet and health in early modern Europe’ (third year option), and contribute to ‘Varieties of Cultural History’Histories of Medicine’. At the MA level, I teach a module entitled ‘Patients and Practitioners: The Patient-Practitioner Relationship in Early Modern Europe’.


I am interested in the social and cultural history of Italy, particularly in the period from 1500 to 1800, although with an increasing tendency to stray into the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I have concentrated on the relationships between different levels of society with regard to beliefs and practices, especially in the areas of religion, medicine and healing, and, more recently, foodways, dietary habits and health’

Current research projects

My current research focuses on drinking water in Italy (1500-1900), placing it within the context of the much wider ‘water culture’ of the Mediterranean during the early- and late-modern periods. By ‘water culture’, I mean both material aspects (such as hydraulic engineering or water legislation) and non-material features (such as beliefs and practices).

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