Missteps in Hamburg during the 1892 Cholera Outbreak

The German city-state was run by merchant families who put trade and economy above residents’ welfare. As British scholar Richard Evans researched the history of pandemics for a book more than 30 years ago, he was struck by the uniformity of how governments from different cultures and different historical periods responded. “Almost every epidemic you[…]

The First Cholera Epidemic in St. Petersburg, 1823

The wide dissemination of the disease was brought about by the poor sanitary conditions of the city. By Kseniya Barabanova In 1823, a new disease—cholera—visited the Russian Empire for the first time. It was initially discovered in the south of the Empire, in Astrakhan. In 1830, the epidemic broke out in Moscow, and it reached[…]

Waging Health: Women in Medicine in Nineteenth-Century American Wars

The nineteenth century is a decisive time in the development of medicine and the medical profession in Europe and North America. Thinking of war from a U.S.-American perspective will almost immediately evoke associations of male soldiers fighting heroic battles for a good cause such as democracy and/or the liberation of people from dictatorships, tyrannies, and[…]

Dr. Benjamin Rush: Medical Quackery in the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

The contradiction in his character is particularly well illustrated by his behavior during the Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic of 1793. By Dr. Robert L. NorthFormer Professor of Internal MedicineThe University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas Introduction Benjamin Rush, MD (1745–1813), was not only the most well known physician in 18th-century America, he was[…]

Russia and the Medical Drug Trade in the Seventeenth Century

Examining what drugs were available in Russia and the great diversity of drugs traded in early modern Europe. Summary This article deals with the trade in medicines into Russia in the seventeenth century. Both the early modern medical drug trade, and Russian medicine, have previously received substantial attention, but no work has thus far been[…]

The Fate of Religious Minorities during the Medieval Black Death

The plague swept through Christian Europe and Islamdom at roughly the same time – between 1347 and 1351. Pandemics are nothing new—they scythed through the ancient world as they did the pre-modern and, as we know to our grief and confusion, they are still mowing us down today. We might think that human nature is[…]

When Religion Sided with Science during Plague in the Medieval Islamic World

Looking at how people thought about science and religion in the past can inform the contemporary world’s approach. Plagues – A Fact of Life Plagues were a fact of life in ancient and medieval worlds. Personal letters from the Cairo Geniza – a treasure trove of documents from the Jews of medieval Egypt – attest[…]

A History of Nurses Fighting Disease on the Front Lines

Nurses have always been at the forefront during war, epidemics, and other times of disaster. May 12 was International Nurses Day, which commemorates the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the first “professional nurse.” The World Health Organization also named this year the “Year of the Nurse” in honor of Nightingale’s 200th birthday. To nurses everywhere, this[…]

Wisconsin and the Economic Impacts of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

While there were economic consequences of the 1918 pandemic, most were found to be short-lived. Introduction The 1918 influenza pandemic and how the ordeal played out in Wisconsin illuminates the scale at which the experience of and response to public health emergencies impact both human lives and the economy. Also known as the “Spanish Flu,”[…]

We’re Never Far from Where We Were: The 1918 Flu Pandemic in Pictures

A little over a century ago, a different pandemic rattled the world when a third of the world’s population contracted the H1N1 influenza virus. A Dark Sense of Humor In this haunting photo, a man in Australia poses with a painted skull-and-crossbones on his mask. Straining the Medical System Military pathologists believe that a British[…]

A History of Quinine Drug Hype Since the 19th Century

The purpose was to sell more quinine and to remind the world that the Dutch empire was the provider of indispensable medicine. Big pharmaceutical companies have long over-promised the efficacy of their antimalarial drugs. This started a century ago, when European antimalarial producers began aggressively touting the curative effects of quinine on all manner of[…]

Smallpox and After: An Early History of the Treatment and Prevention of Infections

Introduction The scientific work that led to the discovery of the causes of infections was possibly the major biomedical advance of the nineteenth century. From it was derived the aseptic technique of Lister, the use of antitoxins and immunisation, and the ultimately successful search for chemicals selectively toxic to bacterial cells. The conquest of most[…]

Politics of Yellow Fever in Alexander Hamilton’s America

Yellow fever ravaged Philadelphia in 1793. “A new order of things is rising in medicine, as well as in government.” Dr. Benjamin Rush The deadly disease touched nearly everyone in the city: young and old, white and African American, wealthy and poor, religious and secular. No one really knew what caused the disease or how[…]

Responses to the ‘Russian Flu’ in 1889

Information was scarce, conflicting, and often exaggerated. In November 1889, a rash of cases of influenza-like-illness appeared in St. Petersburg, Russia. Soon, the “Russia Influenza” spread across Europe and the world. During the 1889 outbreak of the so-called Russian Influenza, the media was overwhelmed by reports on the spread of the flu. In these early[…]

A History of the Yellow Fever Vaccine

The close of the 19th century also witnessed dramatic discoveries in the new science of bacteriology that would transform medicine forever. Introduction After failed attempts at producing bacteria-based vaccines, the discovery of a viral agent causing yellow fever and its isolation in monkeys opened new avenues of research. Subsequent advances were the attenuation of the[…]

The Deathly ‘Bird’ Costumes of Early Modern Plague Doctors

The costumes were meant to combat the contagious miasma. This article, Plague Doctor Costumes, was originally published in The Public Domain Review under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please see: https://publicdomainreview.org/legal/ Today, with the coronavirus now officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, images of hazmat suits and medical[…]

‘London’s Dreadful Visitation: Death during the Great Plague’ (1665)

This article, London’s Dreadful Visitation: A Year of Weekly Death Statistics during the Great Plague (1665), was originally published in The Public Domain Review under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please see: https://publicdomainreview.org/legal/ Epidemics are on all our minds right now. Probably many of us could use a break from the[…]

‘Typhoid Mary’: A Maligned Immigrant Who Got a Bum Rap

Mary Mallon is perhaps the most prominent example in the U.S. of the unknowing disease carrier. Introduction The country’s most notable healthy carrier of a deadly disease, Mary Mallon, is back – not in person, but as a hashtag: #TyphoidMary. In the current pandemic, people may unknowingly harbor and spread the coronavirus before they feel[…]

Leprosy and the Colonial Gaze in the Dutch West and East Indies, 1750–1950

Leprosy and compulsory segregation were connected through the ‘colonial gaze’. Abstract This article is looking at colonial governance with regard to leprosy, comparing two settings of the Dutch colonial empire: Suriname and the Dutch East Indies. Whereas segregation became formal policy in Suriname, leprosy sufferers were hardly ever segregated in the Dutch East Indies. We[…]

Caesar Hath the Falling Sickness: Disability in Shakespearean Drama

What if we understand the play as a story about the disabled body as it was configured in the early modern cultural imagination? Abstract This essay investigates William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar as a disability narrative. In doing so, it reveals that “disabled” was an operational identity category in the early modern period[…]

Thomas Jefferson, Yellow Fever, and Land Planning for Public Health

Jefferson, ever sanguine, was merely trying to make the best of a wretched scenario. A yellow-fever epidemic in 1793 hit Philadelphia, a city then of some 50,000 persons. Forty percent of the people fled Philadelphia. That noted, still some 10 percent of the citizens, some 5,000 persons, perished during the epidemic, which ceased when a[…]

“Invisible Little Worms”: Athanasius Kircher’s 17th-Century Study of the Plague

Kircher’s investigation can be seen as an important early step to understanding contagion. This article, “Invisible Little Worms”: Athanasius Kircher’s Study of the Plague, was originally published in The Public Domain Review under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please see: https://publicdomainreview.org/legal/ Introduction Living through the devastating Italian plague of 1656, the[…]

From Pandemic Then Grew Rebellion: The 1381 Revolt of the English Peasantry

There was a brief moment in 1381 when a better world struggled to be born, but the promise of that moment was deferred. On July 13th in 1381, a garrison of rebelling peasants from Norfolk, Essex, and Kent marched into London, the gates of the city left open either out of sympathy for the cause of[…]

Effects of the Black Death on Europe

The Plague ushered in a new understanding which found expression in movements such as the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance. Introduction The outbreak of plague in Europe between 1347-1352 CE – known as the Black Death – completely changed the world of medieval Europe. Severe depopulation upset the socio-economic feudal system of the time but[…]

Medieval Medicine: Astrological ‘Bat Books’ for Timing Patient Treatment

A handful of manuscripts remain which give researchers valuable insights into medieval science. Introduction Medieval doctors had to acquire a range of skills including an ability to read Latin texts, a working knowledge of the bodily “humours” and an understanding of the rudiments of blood circulation. Their diagnostic techniques were largely limited to examining a[…]

An Examination of Early Medieval Medicine

Come early medieval medicine has become real medicine, not scribal ignorance. Abstract The medical writings of early medieval western Europe c. 700 – c. 1000 have often been derided for their disorganised appearance, poor Latin, nebulous conceptual framework, admixtures of magic and folklore, and general lack of those positive features that historians attribute to ancient[…]

How the Wealthy Reacted to the Medieval Bubonic Plague

The wealthy fled to the countryside, while the urban poor were forced to work on the front lines. Introduction Following the 1348 Black Death in Italy, the Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio wrote a collection of 100 novellas titled, “The Decameron.” These stories, though fictional, give us a window into medieval life during the Black Death[…]

Religious Responses to the Black Death

People reacted with hopeful cures and responses based on religious belief. Introduction The Black Death of 1347-1352 CE is the most infamous plague outbreak of the medieval world, unprecedented and unequaled until the 1918-1919 CE flu pandemic in the modern age. The cause of the plague was unknown and, in accordance with the general understanding[…]