MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 2008

Nancy Siraisi

Historian of Medicine

Brooklyn, New York

Age: 76

Published January 27, 2008
Image of Nancy Siraisi

Nancy Siraisi is a historian of medicine whose erudite and insightful works have opened up new areas of inquiry within medieval and Renaissance history. Whereas most studies of the period have focused almost exclusively on the influence of ancient Greek and medieval Arabic manuscripts on Renaissance medicine, Siraisi considers a much broader context in her analyses of texts written by and about medical practitioners. Her meticulously researched volumes elucidate the historical milieu in which the physicians lived and the profound impact of medical theory and practice on Renaissance society, culture, and religion. For instance, her lively account of the life and career of Taddeo Alderotti, one of Bologna’s most illustrious physicians, and his students explores the interaction between physicians’ participation in the intellectual life of medieval Italy and the development of medical theory in the 13th and early 14th centuries. By concentrating on medicine in her biography of the 16th-century polymath Girolamo Cardano — who was a physician, astrologer, autobiographer, mathematician, and natural philosopher — Siraisi offers new perspectives on the history of these fields and illuminates essential aspects of Renaissance medical practice. In her most recent work, Siraisi brings her analysis up to the early modern period to examine the intersections between medicine and the wider world of learning. In particular, she demonstrates the key role physicians writing about their craft played in the emergence of history as a discipline. Regarded as a leading scholar of the field in the U.S. and Europe, Siraisi continues to provide contributions to the evolving scholarly understanding of medical history and, specifically, Renaissance intellectual history.

Nancy Siraisi received a B.A. (1953) and an M.A. (1958) from the University of Oxford and a Ph.D. (1970) from the City University of New York. She was a professor of history at Hunter College (1970-2003) and the Graduate Center (1976-2003) at the City University of New York. Siraisi is the author of several books, including Taddeo Alderotti and His Pupils (1981), Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine (1990), and History, Medicine, and the Traditions of Renaissance Learning (2007).


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