chapter  9
18 Pages

Mapping fear: plague and perception in Florence and Tuscany


Is it possible to map an emotion like fear? 1 I intend this question in a literal sense: can digital mapping technology such as that being used by the DECIMA team be exploited to represent people’s fear of a happening, a series of events or situation in a specific time and place, or to track the spread of such fear from one location to another? Are such phenomena susceptible to representation on a plan such as the Buonsignori map? This essay presents some thoughts on these and related issues that have arisen from my current interest in the way Florentines responded to the threat of plague in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Fear of plague ran deep in this period, and we should not be surprised therefore that the population’s anxiety levels spiked when rumours of disease began to spread. But it is also clear that people never really stopped worrying: fear of plague did not disappear in periods when there was no immediate threat, and when a serious illness appeared, one of the first things that people asked themselves and others was whether the new malady was ‘true plague’.