Epidemics and History: Disease, Power, and Imperialism

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This book is a major and wide-ranging study of the great epidemic scourges of humanity-plague, leprosy, smallpox, syphilis, cholera, and yellow fever/malaria-over the last six centuries. It will become the standard account of the way diseases arising through chance, through reckless environmental change engineered by man, or through a combination of each were interpreted in Western Europe and in the colonized world.

"This trenchant book provides a salutary antidote to world health complacency, past and present."-Roy Porter, The Times (London)

"Watts' . . . mastery of six centuries of Western-influenced infectious disease and sanitation history is impressive. He also writes with authority about the pre-modern and modern medical profession."-Claire Panosian, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Watts offers solid, stunning examples of Western idiocy that created superhighways for once-obscure microbes, leading to horrendous epidemics. . . . His is a perspective that Western, particularly Caucasian, policy-makers would do well to comprehend."-Laurie Garrett, Foreign Affairs

"The convenience of so much history of diseases in one place is obvious. [An] engrossing book."-Gert Brieger, M.D., New England Journal of Medicine

"An important contribution to our understanding of the history of disease, public health, and imperialism."-Suzanne Austin Alchon, American Historical Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300080872
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 418
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii
Acknowledgements ix
Introduction xi
1 The Human Response to Plague in Western Europe and the Middle East, 1347 to 1844
Introduction 1
Shifting Attitudes towards Disease 3
Professional Paradigms: Continuities and Change 8
The Invention of Controls 15
Responses to Plague in the Middle East 25
2 Dark Hidden Meanings: Leprosy and Lepers in the Medieval West and in the Tropical World under the European Imperium
Introduction 40
Leprosy in the European Middle Ages: Background 44
The Great Leper Hunt, c. 1090 to 1363 48
Leprosy and Empire 64
3 Smallpox in the New World and in the Old: From Holocaust to Eradication, 1518 to 1977
Introduction 84
The Disease and its First Impact on New World Peoples 85
Mindsets and Practices 102
The African Connection 109
Towards Eradication 114
4 The Secret Plague: Syphilis in West Europe and East Asia, 1492 to 1965
Introduction 122
Initial Perceptions 125
The Commercialization of Syphilis 130
Changes in Sociability, c. 1480 to c. 1750 134
The Competition for Control 139
Treponema Pallidum and the Rise of Mass Society 147
Syphilis and "Syphilis" in China, c. 1860 to 1965 161
5 Cholera and Civilization: Great Britain and India, 1817 to 1920
Introduction 167
Cholera as Disease 169
Cholera in India to c. 1857 174
Cholera in Britain 186
Cholera in India after 1857 200
6 Yellow Fever, Malaria and Development: Atlantic Africa and the New World, 1647 to 1928
Introduction 213
The Diseases 216
Slavery and the Fevers in Atlantic Africa to c. 1840 224
Slavery, Yellow Fever and Malaria in the New World 228
The United States
West Africa and Tropical Medicine, 1895-1928 256
7 Afterword: To the Epidemiologic Transition? 269
Notes 280
Select Bibliography 368
Index 385
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