Wednesday, July 24, 2013

De Plague De Plague

Most of the history of the plague acts as if it occurred only in western Europe.
medievalists also links to an article on the plagues in Egypt.

also at medievalistsnet: The plague in India.
and a list of stuff on the black death.

Defoe's book on the London plague is a classic, but is fiction, and he was not an eye witness.

Grescham college has a bunch of neat lectures on disease in British history, including this one about the plauge.

The ten plagues of history...note that some minor plagues were included because they occurred in Europe.

 But they do note the smallpox etc. that decimated the Americas, and the 3rd plague pandemic:

“Third Pandemic” is the name given to a major plague pandemic that began in the Yunnan province (pictured above) in China in 1855. This episode of bubonic plague spread to all inhabited continents, and ultimately killed more than 12 million people in India and China alone

But the Antoinine plague, (that killed Marcus Aurelius, not his son) depopulated the Roman empire and weakened says a lot about Rome that the empire didn't collapse then.

This plague, along with the plague of Cyprian, not only weakened Rome but contributed to the collapse of the Han empire of China...

article about McNeill's book on plagues in history. 

In 1976 McNeill forged that path with a sweeping book that took a new approach to disease history. Plagues and Peoples (Anchor Press/Doubleday) focused a biological lens on the ebb and flow of human civilization, from prehistory into the 20th century, and the picture that emerged showed a pattern of what he calls "fateful encounters" between infectious disease and world events: China's ancient Han Dynasty, like the Roman Empire, was brought down in part by epidemic illness, McNeill argues, and during the 14th century the Black Death proved a similarly "shattering experience" for the Mongol Empire. Only by taking disease into account can one explain Athens's failure to defeat Sparta during the Peloponnesian War, a conflict that transformed the ancient Greek world. Greek historian Thucydides described a sudden, devastating plague that struck in 431 BC, wiping out a quarter of Athens's land army and inflicting "a blow on Athenian society," McNeill writes, "from which it never entirely recovered." The historian also brought disease to bear on such diverse phenomena as the rise of Christianity and Buddhism, the caste system in India, and the expansion of the British Empire.

the debate is if these were "measles" (which can easily kill those who have never been exposed to it) or smallpox, or pestis, but the problem is that plagues evolve over time: the classic example being syphilis, which originally killed people quickly...

DNA studies are the final decider: And so the black plague was indeed Y.Pestis, and the plague of Athens typhoid, and the Spanish Flu a type of bird flu...

and it doesn't take an epidemic to think "what if"...for example, Stalin survived smallpox, FDR survived polio, and Churchill survived being hit by a car...

Camus' book The Plague is about a fictional outbreak in Algeria. The book is an allegory on the spread of fascism, Nazi takeovers in particular, and the theme is that it is important for people to decide to fight it. PDF HERE>

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