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January 27, 1993

Miasmas and Disease: Public Health and the Environment in the Pre-Industrial Age

JAMA. 1993;269(4):530. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03500040102049

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Readers of this excellent treatise may be prompted to ask whether some of our present attitudes and social actions in the face of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome are much advanced over those of the citizens and officials of Italian city-states in the 17th century who were confronted by the threat of plague. In both eras, public reactions have ranged from apathy to hysteria, and official policies and actions have been adopted that include ostracism and quarantine, as well as more rational public health measures.

Carlo Cipolla, a noted historian of early modern Europe, has written more broadly on these subjects in Public Health and the Medical Profession in the Renaissance (New York, NY, Cambridge University Press, 1973), and the present volume, a brief, concise, and objective account based on the archives of the Florence Health Magistracy in the first 30 years of the 17th century, could be considered an expanded