The Bio-Social Ecology of Epidemics: Yellow Fever in Providence ca. 1800
Robert J. Frank, Jr., Ph.D.
Professor, UCLA Department of History
12:30 p.m., Friday, 12 April 2013
Location: Rare Book Room, History & Special Collections for the Sciences, UCLA Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, 12-077 CHS
Seating is limited. To reserve a seat, please call 310.825.6940
Epidemics happen. And since Thucydides, historians and literati have written extensively and graphically on the chaos that epidemics bring. This narrative mode has largely characterized the voluminous writings on yellow fever outbreaks in the United States from 1790 to 1905, when it seemed that no coastal town or city—especially southern—was safe from “yellow jack.” As I started exploring the epidemics ca. 1800 in the port town of Providence, Rhode Island (the 9th largest city in the young U.S.), I discovered an unusually rich trove of thousands of documents from which I could write a similar detailed narrative.
But I also found an even more interesting story—of the way in which the epidemics, in their timing and course, were shaped by what I call the “bio-social ecology of disease.” This ecology, is comprised of many interacting components: the nature of the yellow fever virus, the detailed characteristics of its vector (the mosquito Aedes aegypti), how the two cause the clinical picture of yellow fever, the weather and climate of the town, the topography of the port, the patterns of trade to the Caribbean, the characteristics of the merchant fleet, the activist nature of the town’s citizens, their hands-on political institutions, the medical care delivered to patients, and the preventative measures (such as patient isolation and ship inspection/ quarantine) that the town put in place. My presentation will privilege the structural, rather than the narrative, elements of this case study.
This series provides opportunities for faculty, students, staff, and visiting researchers to present recent work or unfinished work-in-progress in an informal, presentation-and-discussion format. Seating is limited and is not guaranteed without a reservation. Reservations may be made by contacting History and Special Collections for the Sciences (voice: 310.825.6940; email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
<submitted by Russell Johnson>