Dr J. (Janna) Coomans

  • Faculty of Humanities
    Capaciteitsgroep Geschiedenis
  • Visiting address
    Oost-Indisch Huis
    Kloveniersburgwal 48  Room number: D.010
  • Postal address:
    Kloveniersburgwal  48
    1012 CX  Amsterdam
  • J.Coomans@uva.nl


Janna Coomans is a postdoctoral researcher at the department of Medieval History. She defended her dissertation (cum laude), titled “In Pursuit of a Healthy City: Sanitation and the Common Good in the Late Medieval Low Countries”, in June 2018. Her current research project explores the practices of various agents to promote communal wellbeing in the late medieval urban Low Countries. It is part of the ERC-funded interdisciplinary project “Healthscaping Urban Europe”. Her main research interests are the history of (public) health; social and urban history and more theoretical explorations of spatiality and materiality; as well as gender, medicine, crime, and urban governance.


PhD thesis: "In Pursuit of a Healthy City: Sanitation and the Common Good in the Late Medieval Low Countries” (September 2013-January 2018). Awarded with a cum laude distinction.

ABSTRACT:  Contrary to popular beliefs picturing them as pinnacles of disease and dirt, late medieval cities recognized the promotion of population health as a prerequisite for their survival. Focusing on the Low Countries, this dissertation reconstructs the range of preventative practices that various late medieval urban actors, most notably urban governments, undertook to protect communal health, sanitize the city, and preserve its spiritual purity. The present inquiry chimes in with a growing international historiography seeking to unearth premodern prophylactic efforts by expanding research to an highly urbanized yet understudied area, and employing an innovative approach. The project shifts away from curative institutions, medical practitioners and epidemiological crises – the more traditional foci of histories of health – to routine prevention, in a comparative survey with three core case studies: Ghent, Leiden and Deventer. With the incorporation of theories on space, governance, and actor-networks, this dissertation investigates the (perceived) health challenges facing late medieval urban communities and the myriad ways these issues were confronted, with responsibilities and tasks divided across spatial and jurisdictional boundaries. It argues that these endeavors were informed by medical reasoning and justified by a conceptual framework that considered public health a part of the common good. Rather than mainly ad hoc responses, the promotion of communal health constituted an argument for governmental interventions, and was therefore a shaping force in the urban fabric and its socio-political relations. This PhD research project was funded by the Amsterdam School for Historical Studies, University of Amsterdam.



Peer reviewed

  • “The King of Dirt: Public Health and Sanitation in Late Medieval Ghent,”  Urban History (published online 18 April 2018).
  • “Policing Female Food Vendors in the Late Medieval Netherlands,” Yearbook of Women’s History 36 (2017) , 97-113.
  • “On the Street and in the Bathhouse: Medieval Galenism in Action?” (co-author: G. Geltner), Anuario de Estudios Medievales 43 (2013), 53-82.

Journal articles

  • “De middeleeuwse stad en zijn varkens” (co-author: F. Camphuijsen), Madoc 28 (2015), 140-149.
  • “Hoe vies waren de Middeleeuwen? Baden in een middeleeuwse stad,” Geschiedenis Magazine (2014, nr. 2), 45-49.
  • “Varkens van de werf: Stadsreiniging in laatmiddeleeuws Utrecht,” Tijdschrift Oud Utrecht 85 (2012), 60-66.


  •  “A Bibliography of Works on the History of Public Health in Pre-Industrial Societies” (with Guy Geltner), online publication, annually updated.
  •  Editor (with T. Smits and J.-J. Zurnée) of  Snelweg naar Rome: Een nieuwe generatie historici over het verleden (Amsterdam: Bert Bakker, 2013).

Conference papers and presentations (selection)

  • “Urban Redevelopment and Public Health in the Late Medieval Low Countries: The Production of The Meat Hall,” International Conference EAUH, Helsinki. Third place in conference essay contest.
  • “Sanitation and the neighborhood in the late Medieval Netherlands,” Centrum voor Stadsgeschiedenis, Universiteit Antwerpen.
  • “Urban Health and Fire Safety in the Late Medieval Low Countries.” Medieval Congress, Kalamazoo. Recipient of competitive travel grant.
  •  “Disease Prevention in late Medieval Leiden,” Prosecuting Environmental Offenders, Invitation Workshop, Amsterdam
  •  “Approaches to Public Health in Fourteenth-century Ghent.” Public Health Practices, Invitation Workshop, Villa I Tatti, Florence.



  • Crime in the Middle Ages: seminar (Geschiedenislab)
  • Introduction to medieval history: seminar (werkgroep)
  • BA thesis supervision
  • Guest lecturer: history of premodern health and hygiene




  • Coomans, J. (2018). The King of Dirt: Public Health and Sanitation in Late Medieval Ghent. Urban History, 1-24. DOI: 10.1017/S096392681800024X 


  • Coomans, J. (2017). Policing Female Food Vendors in the Late Medieval Netherlands. Yearbook for Women’s History , 36, 97-113.



  • Coomans, J. (2015). De middeleeuwse stad en zijn varkens. Madoc, 28, 140-149.


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