Plague Ports: The Global Urban Impact of Bubonic Plague, 1894-1901

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A century ago, the third bubonic plague swept the globe, taking more than 15 million lives. Plague Ports tells the story of ten cities on five continents that were ravaged by the epidemic in its initial years: Hong Kong and Bombay, the Asian emporiums of the British Empire where the epidemic first surfaced; Sydney, Honolulu and San Francisco, three “pearls” of the Pacific; Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro in South America; Alexandria and Cape Town in Africa; and Oporto in Europe.

Myron Echenberg examines plague's impact in each of these cities, on the politicians, the medical and public health authorities, and especially on the citizenry, many of whom were recent migrants crammed into grim living spaces. He looks at how different cultures sought to cope with the challenge of deadly epidemic disease, and explains the political, racial, and medical ineptitudes and ignorance that allowed the plague to flourish. The forces of globalization and industrialization, Echenberg argues, had so increased the transmission of microorganisms that infectious disease pandemics were likely, if not inevitable.

This fascinating, expansive history, enlivened by harrowing photographs and maps of each city, sheds light on urbanism and modernity at the turn of the century, as well as on glaring public health inequalities. With the recent outbreaks of SARS and avian flu, and ongoing fears of bioterrorism, Plague Ports offers a necessary and timely historical lesson.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Echenberg’s richly textured and deeply discerning account of the last plague pandemic is, as he points out, a cautionary tale of the politics of disease control in a globalized world. It should become compulsory reading for all who are engaged in the construction of the new discipline of global public health.”
-New England Journal of Medicine


“Echenberg’s richly textured and deeply discerning account of the last plague pandemic is, as he points out, a cautionary tale of the politics of disease control in a globalized world. It should become compulsory reading for all who are engaged in the construction of the new discipline of global public health.”
-Dorothy Porter,in The New England Journal of Medicine

“Well written and fluent in narrating its stories, this work can provide good reading not only for historians and students specializing in medicine, but for a wider public as well.”
-Journal of World History


“Provides an in-depth look at the ineffectiveness of certain public health disease control measures such as quarantine, isolation of patient contacts, and the importance of using knowledge of the pathogen’s disease ecology for the development and implementation of effective control measures.”
-International Journal of African Historical Studies


“[Echenberg] does an excellent job of presenting complex political and social consequences of the plague.”
-Choice, Recommended


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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814722329
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 1/8/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 366
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Myron Echenberg is professor of history at McGill University. He is the author of Black Death, White Medicine: Bubonic Plague and the Politics of Public Health in Colonial Senegal, 1914-1945 and Colonial Conscripts: The Tirailleurs S&#233n&#233galais in French West Africa, 1857-1960.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Preface xi

Illustrations xv

Part 1 Belle Époque and Bubonic Plague 1

Part 2 Asian Beginnings 15

1 An Unexampled Calamity: Hong Kong, 1894 16

2 City of the Plague: Bombay, 1896 47

Part 3 Plague at the Doors of Europe 79

3 The Plague Has at Last Arrived: Alexandria, 1899 83

4 They Have a Love of Clean Underlinen and of Fresh Air: Porto, 1899 107

Part 4 South American Settings 131

5 A Bubonic Plague Epidemic Does Not Exist in This Country: Buenos Aires, 1900 133

6 The Victory of Hygiene, Good Taste, and Art: Rio de Janeiro, 1900 156

Part 5 Plague under the Stars and Stripes 183

7 Plague in Paradise: Honolulu, 1899/1900 185

8 Black Plague Creeps into America: San Francisco, 1900/1901 213

Part 6 Plague under the Union Jack 243

9 The Inhabitants of Sydney No More Go Barefoot than Do the Inhabitants of London: Sydney, 1900 244

10 It Is a Miracle We Are Not Visited by a Black Plague: Cape Town, 1901 270

Part 7 Plague's Lessons 303

Appendix 313

Notes 315

Index 331

About the Author 349

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