Episode Description

There’s a persistent myth in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy about Alessandra Giliani, a 14th century girl who defied the laws of church and state to attend medical school. The only hard evidence comes in the form of illuminated manuscripts depicting an assistant to anatomist Mondino de Luzzi who appears to be a cross-dressed woman. In this episode, associate producer Mackenzie Tatananni speaks with author Barbara Quick about Alessandra’s pursuit of anatomical research.


  • Barbara Quick, a novelist and poet, is the author of the 2007 international favorite Vivaldi’s Virgins, still in print, translated into 13 languages and currently in development as a television mini-series. Quick was awarded the 2020 Blue Light Press Poetry Prize for her debut chapbook, The Light on Sifnos. Quick’s fourth novel, What Disappears, was published by Regal House in May 2022. One of her poems, “The Algorithm,” was published in the May 2022 issue of Scientific American. Her 2010 novel from HarperTeen, A Golden Web—about the 14th century teenage anatomist Alessandra Giliani—continues to attract fans of historical fiction.


  • Katie Hafner
  • Mackenzie Tatananni


Mackenzie Tatananni


Mackenzie is a Northwestern University Merit Scholar who is currently pursuing her master’s degree at the Medill School of Journalism. She graduated summa cum laude from Tufts University in 2022 with a B.A. in English and Biopsychology, and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa the same year. Mackenzie comes to Lost Women of Science from Paradiso Media, where she worked with the Development team to diversify operations in the United States.


  • Barbara W. Tuchman, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (1978: Knopf). A fascinating and detailed look into the day-to-day perils and joys of people who lived in medieval Europe.
  • Thomas Cahill, Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe (2006: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday). For nearly 1,000 years, the learning of the ancient Greeks, Romans and Arabs was locked away in the religious cloisters of Medieval Europe. And yet within those monasteries and nunneries, certain brave individuals tended the embers of art, science and social change that flamed to life during the Renaissance.
  • Nancy G. Siraisi, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine: An Introduction to Knowledge and Practice (1990: University of Chicago Press) For those who want to take a deeper dive, this book shines a light on Western medicine’s earliest day. What’s surprising is how much–and how little–knowledge and practice have changed! Visit the anatomical theater at the University of Padova Medical School and you’ll see a very familiar collection of surgical tools.

Episode Transcript

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