Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914

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Overview

This book explores the links among ecology, disease, and international politics in the context of the Greater Caribbean - the landscapes lying between Surinam and the Chesapeake - in the seventeenth through early twentieth centuries. Ecological changes made these landscapes especially suitable for the mosquito vectors of yellow fever and malaria, helping these diseases to wreak systematic havoc among invading armies and would-be settlers. Because yellow fever confers immunity on survivors of the disease, and because malaria confers resistance, these diseases played partisan roles in the struggles for empire and revolution, consistently attacking some populations more severely than others. In particular, yellow fever and malaria attacked newcomers to the region, which helped keep the Spanish Empire Spanish in the face of predatory rivals in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In the late eighteenth century and through the nineteenth century, these diseases helped revolutions succeed by decimating forces sent out from Europe to stop them.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Brilliant. Ranging freely across the 'Greater Caribbean' … McNeill makes a riveting case that the primary driver in the colonial conflicts there was not political or economic but microbiological."
Charles C. Mann, Wall Street Journal

"J. R. McNeill’s new book does more than exhibit his usual gifts – breadth of range, mastery of material, depth of insight, freedom of thought, clarity of expression. It has changed the way I think about empires of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and will challenge many readers’ assumptions about the limits of human agency in shaping great events."
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, University of Notre Dame

"In this authoritative and engaging book, J. R. McNeill argues convincingly that disease played a pivotal role in many of the momentous events of Caribbean history. He shows how the region’s disease ecology changed following the advent of European colonization and how this served and then subverted the interests of the Caribbean’s oldest colonial powers. Mosquito Empires is indispensable to any student of Caribbean history or the history of disease."
Mark Harrison, Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford

"Who would have guessed that the mosquito played such a vital role, shaping the fate of empires and revolutions, in such a vitally important part of the world? This provocative book is an eye-opener, written with great verve and wit."
Philip Morgan, Johns Hopkins University

"For most of the last five centuries, the Atlantic empires – European and North American – wrested, fought wars, and killed thousands of citizens and slaves for possession of the wealth swaying in the fields of the Caribbean islands and coastlines. The dominant factors in the long conflict, no matter what the protagonists claimed, were not political or religious or even economic but septic, that is, the microbes of yellow fever and malaria. J. R. McNeill’s book is by far the clearest, best informed, and scientifically accurate of the accounts available on this sugary conflict."
Alfred W. Crosby, Professor Emeritus of History, Geography, and American Studies, University of Texas at Austin

"Drawing on an enormous documentary source base, culled from many archives and texts in several languages, and ranging effortlessly across military history and medical science, J. R. McNeill's book is a major achievement. Henceforth, histories of empire, warfare, and international relations that neglects the environmental context of the events they recount will be seriously deficient."
Gabriel Paquette, Times Literary Supplement

"… this is a truly impressive book that makes a major contribution to our understanding of the Greater Caribbean and beyond."
Matthew Mulcahy, William and Mary Quarterly

"McNeill's seminal and path-breaking new study will surely play a leading role in providing a clear historical understanding of colonization and its aftermath in a vast area of the Western Hemisphere."
American Historical Review

"This ambitious work is an enjoyable, convincing read. Highly recommended."
Choice

"… a valuable addition to the historiography of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Caribbean."
Mariola Espinosa, Journal of Interdisciplinary History"… a welcome addition to maritime and imperial history."
Paul Webb, International Journal of Maritime History

"… a fine study that will be read and admired for generations to come."
Paul Kopperman, The Journal of Southern History

"In his compelling new book, J. R. McNeill asserts that over the course of two centuries historical events in the Americas shifted on tides of fevered sweat and black vomit."
Jennifer L. Anderson, European History Quarterly

"… gives a valuable framework for understanding the biology of colonization and independence in the Americas."
Lynn A. Nelson, Florida Historical Quarterly

"… a wonderful book, as fun to read as it is thought-provoking and informative."
Molly A. Warsh, Journal of World History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521459105
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 12/31/2009
  • Series: New Approaches to the Americas Series
  • Pages: 390
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

J. R. McNeill is University Professor in the History Department and School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. His books include The Mountains of the Mediterranean World (Cambridge University Press, 2003);
Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World (2000), co-winner of the World History Association book prize and the Forest History Society book prize and runner-up for the BP Natural World book prize;
and most recently The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History (2003), co-authored with his father, William H. McNeill. He has also published more than 40 scholarly articles in professional and scientific journals.
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Table of Contents

List of Maps xi

List of Abbreviations Used in the Footnotes xiii

Preface xv

Acknowledgments xvii

1 The Argument (and Its Limits) in Brief 1

The Argument 2

The Limits of the Argument 5

The Limits of the Novelty of the Argument 8

Part I Setting the Scene

2 Atlantic Empires and Caribbean Ecology 15

Atlantic American Geopolitics, 1620-1820 15

Ecological Transformation in the Caribbean, 1640-1750 22

Yellow Fever and Caribbean Ecology 32

Yellow Fever Transmission and Immunity 40

Epidemic Yellow Fever and Plantation Sugar 47

Malaria, Mosquitoes, and Plantations of Sugar and Rice 52

Climate Change, El Niño, Mosquitoes, and Epidemics 58

Conclusion 60

3 Deadly Fevers, Deadly Doctors 63

Early Yellow Fever Epidemics and Their Victims 64

A Virulent Strain of Medicine 68

Conclusion 86

Part II Imperial Mosquitoes

4 Fevers Take Hold: From Recife to Kourou 91

The Dutch in Brazil, 1624-1654 92

The English in Jamaica, 1655-1660 97

The Scots at Darien, 1698-1699 105

The French at Kourou, 1763-1764 123

Conclusion 135

5 Yellow Fever Rampant and British Ambition Repulsed, 1690-1780 137

Yellow Fever and the Defense of the Spanish Empire 137

The Deadly 1690s 144

Siege Ecology at Cartagena, 1741 149

The Seven Years' War and the Siege Ecology of Havana, 1762 169

Conclusion 188

Part III Revolutionary Mosquitoes

6 Lord Cornwallis vs. Anopheles quadrimaculatus, 1780-1781 195

Introduction 195

Slave Risings and Surinam's Maroons 195

Revolution and Malaria in the Southern Colonies 198

Yorktown 220

Conclusion 232

7 Revolutionary Fevers, 1790-1898; Haiti, New Granada, and Cuba 235

St. Domingue, 1790-1804 236

New Granada, 1815-1820 267

Immigration, Warfare, and Independence, 1830-1898: Mexico, the United States, and Cuba 287

Conclusion 303

8 Conclusion: Vector and Virus Vanquished, 1880-1914 304

The Argument Recapitulated 304

Vector and Virus Vanquished 306

Disease and Power 312

Bibliography 315

Index 363

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