Exhibition on 'insanity epidemic'

Posted by ap507 at Jun 01, 2016 01:10 PM |
University of Leicester historian curates multimedia event looking at impact of epidemic in Italy

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 1 June 2016

Image (An episode of pellagrous insanity as viewed by the popular press (from: La Tribuna Illlustrata, 1904) available here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/83j9m92x1aipbow/AACcg2hd9zmnWuBQBXWLuxcxa?dl=0

A University of Leicester historian has curated a major exhibition to be held in Venice and Ferrara focusing on the impact of an epidemic that was regarded as ‘insanity’.

David Gentilcore, Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Leicester, has spearheaded the exhibitions to be held at San Servolo, Venice, Italy (June and July, 2016); Museo del Risorgimento, Ferrara, Italy (August 2016).

Entitled Rough Skin: Maize, Pellagra and Insanity in the Veneto, Italy, 1850-1900, the exhibition explores the impact of epidemic pellagra on the people of Italy during the late nineteenth century.

Dr Gentilcore said: “Pellagra was the tragic result of a diet based around maize polenta that affected several hundred thousand people, mostly poor peasants, leading to insanity in its latter stages.

 “Using period photographs and based on original research, this exhibition documents how psychiatric hospitals like Venice’s San Servolo (for men) and San Clemente  (for women) coped with what was then labelled ‘pellagrous insanity’ and how the disease  impacted peasant families.

“We also have a specially commissioned short film, produced by the London-based film-maker Martha Rose McAlpine.”

The  exhibition  is  part  of  the  Rough  Skin:  Maize,  Pellagra  and  Society  in  Italy,  1750-1930 research project  based at the University of Leicester. The project’s Principal Investigator is Professor David Gentilcore, and the Research Assistant is Mr Egidio Priani.

The three-year project is reconstructing and analysing the effects of the introduction of maize cultivation in northern Italy, in particular the 150-year-long pellagra epidemic. It investigates: How did the medical community respond to this tragic wasting disease, which culminated in insanity and death – and how were individual sufferers and their families affected?

From the 1760s, pellagra was understood to be related to a maize subsistence diet, but the exact link between polenta and pellagra remained the source of much dispute, until this aetiological puzzle was finally resolved in the 1930s. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of poor Italians were struck down by the disease, many so severely that the ended up in insane asylums.

For more information on the research project visit: http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/history/research/grants/rough-skin



For more information please contact Professor David Gentilcore via: dcg2@le.ac.uk


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