The Early Modern Travel Pass:
Controlling the Plague and Jewish Mobility in 16th Century Tuscany

By :  Stefanie B. Siegmund Women's League Chair in Jewish Gender and Women's Studies Posted On Aug 2, 2021 / 5781 | A Wandering People: Jewish Journeys, Real and Imagined Monday Webinar

Part of the series, “A Wandering People: Jewish Journeys, Real and Imagined”

In the wake of the Black Death, governments in the Italian states began to enlarge their departments of health and sanitation in an effort to control the plague. Over time they experimented by banning travel to and from suspect regions and quarantining merchants’ goods. Italian Jews, heavily invested in local and regional commerce, were among the merchants affected, attracting the attention of the authorities.

Dr. Stefanie Siegmund looks at the flow of information within government agencies to see how licensing developed by the Florentine government as tools for the control of plague, of criminals, and of residents of the Florentine ghetto, and how these instruments led directly to the forms of identification we use today: passports, visas, and—perhaps—vaccination cards.


As the pandemic surged and forced us into our homes, many of us dreamed with new intensity of being elsewhere. For Jews throughout the ages, the promises and perils of travel have been central to shaping the individual and collective experience. Notions of home and homeland have been redefined by Jewish wandering. Drawing on literary, spiritual, and historical sources and responses, JTS scholars explore what happens when Jews—whether by force or voluntarily, whether in reality or in the imagination—travel from one place to another. 

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