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The Medieval History Of Our Modern Hospitals

The Hôtel-Dieu de Tonnerre (above) in France is one of the many medieval hospitals analyzed in Adam Davis's new book "The Medieval Economy of Salvation: Charity, Commerce and the Rise of the Hospital.""

During times of crisis, people gravitate to history for context. This pandemic is no exception. Over the past several months, there is new found interest in the history of hospitals, caregiving and global pandemics. On this episode of River to River, guest host Rick Brewer is joined by historian Adam Davis to unpack the history of hospitals in medieval Europe and help us see the modern parallels of these systems and institutions.

Many of the hospitals from the middle ages provided services outside of caring for the sick. These services included, supplying loans, owning land, banking, distributing food, caring for the poor, and in some ways, were at the heart of social networks in the lives of medieval people. 

Credit Courtesy of Denison University
Adam Davis has spent the last 10 years researching and writing about medieval hospitals in Europe.

One of the many comparisons Davis makes to our modern hospital system is the emergence of medieval hospitals as 'big business.' Davis writes that "from the time of their medieval origins as Christian charitable institutions, hospitals were inextricably tied to markets and an expanding profit economy while also serving as sites of evangelical devotion."

Davis is the author of the new book "The Medieval Economy of Salvation: Charity, Commerce and the Rise of the Hospital" and a professor of history at Dension University (Granville, OH) where he is also the director of the Lisska Center for Scholarly Engagement.


Adam Davis, professor of history and director of the Lisska Center for Scholarly Engagement at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

Rick Brewer was a producer for IPR's Talk of Iowa and River to River
Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa