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The Sustainable Past: Series 2

A podcast series on Health and the Natural Environment

In this new series, Drs. Patty Baker and Giacomo Savani will explore what we can learn from ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and early Modern Italian conceptions of the relationship between health and the environment, continuing to explore their concerns with environmental sustainability issues today. Environmental concerns are of critical importance for ourselves, future generations, and all life on our planet, and while there are many scientific studies and activist groups that are trying to correct the situation, it is only recently that scholars in the humanities have started to contribute to these discussions.

In this series, every Wednesday from 9 November to 21 December, Baker and Savani will speak with leading arts and humanities scholars who will explain their subject and personal view of what we can learn from the past conceptions of health and the environment.


9 November: introduction to this second series with Drs. Baker and Savani 

16 November: Professor Laurence Totelin, Ancient History, University of Cardiff, speaks to us about ancient health and the environment, with a specific focus on Greco-Roman botanical practices.

23 November: Professor David Gentilcore based at Ca’ Foscari, University of Venice, gives adetailed overview of his project The Water Cultures of Italy, 1500-1900

30 November: Dr. Janna Coomans, an Assistant Professor at Utrecht University and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam, and Davide Martino, a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge, speak about their research on water usage in the early modern period, in both northern Europe and Italy.

7 December: Dr. Ismene Miliaris speaks about her work on heating baths in ancient Rome. As a trained engineer, she brings unique insights into how ancient baths and bathing water was heated.

14 December: Dr. Vanessa Champion, a classicist and founder of the Journal of Biophilic Design speaks with us about the term Biophilia and Environmental Psychology and how modern scholarship and ideas are grounded in historical conceptions.

21 December: Finally, Dr. Giacomo Savani and Dr. Patty Baker interview each other about their work on ancient bathing and gardens.



Dr. Vanessa Champion, is the founder of the Journal of Biophilic Design. She received her PhD at UCL, exploring the work of the Greek writer Pausanias. She has gone on to lead a fascinating life as a journalist, a photographer, she has a multi-media company, The Space Doctors, and her photography is used to help us reconnecting with the natural world.

Dr. Laurence Totelin, ia professor at the University of Cardiff. She is an historian of Greek and Roman Science, Technology, and Medicine and has published wildly on of ancient pharmacology, gynecology, botany and sensory studies. With Dr. Patty Baker and Professor Helen King, she helped create a MOOC Health and Wellbeing in the Ancient World.

David Gentilcore is Professor of Modern History at Ca’ Foscari, University of Venice. He is the principal investigator of an ERC Advanced Grant entitled The Water Cultures of Italy, 1500-1900, which aims to create a new holistic approach to the study of human interactions with water over time. He’s published extensively on history of popular religion, the history of medicine and health, and the history of food and diet.

Davide Martino is a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge. His project is entitled ‘Hydraulic philosophy in early modern European cities’ and investigates the branch of early modern natural philosophy concerned with water. His research interests include architectural history, global history, and innovative methodologies for the environmental humanities.

Janna Coomans is an Assistant Professor at Utrecht University and a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam. Janna is an urban historian, and her research focuses on social history and public health in premodern cities. Her PhD thesis was published in 2021 as Community, Urban Health and Environment in the Late Medieval Low Countries by Cambridge University Press.

Ismene Miliaresis received her Ph.D. in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Virginia in 2013 and her Bachelor of Engineering in civil engineering from the Cooper Union in 1999. Her research focuses on the sustainability of heating systems in ancient Roman baths and homes, and she is the Assistant Director of the Palazzo Imperiale Project at Ostia.

Dr. Patty Baker is former Chair of the Department of Classics and Archaeology at the University of Kent, and was affiliated with the Department of History at Virginia Tech. She is the founder of Pax in Natura, an online teaching forum that explores past floral and garden design as a way to build environmentally sustainable and healthy practices in modern floral and garden design.

Dr. Giacomo Savani is a Royal Society of Edinburgh Saltire Early Career Fellow at the School of Classics, University of St Andrews. He works mainly on Roman social and cultural history, ancient environments, and the reception of Antiquity in Early Modern Europe. He’s particularly interested in ancient baths and their reception in Renaissance Italy. His current RSE project is Women and the Baths in Ancient Medicine.