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This chapter considers what we know about climate in ancient Greece and how this structures our thinking. The issue of very different local environments and interannual variation is observed, both its challenges but also the potential for exploitation. The question of whether and when climate can be related to history is then discussed – the case of 541 CE and the plague under Justinian is considered as an example of what we do and do not know – and some of the main climate proxy evidence available for ancient Greece are briefly reviewed. The Greek to Roman period is mainly notable for a relatively benign and stable climate regime over a number of centuries.
The Sultanate's political economy evolved continuously. Since the regime presided over an imperial union of territories that differed in their topography and ecology, the process of evolution in these regions exhibited contrasting patterns of change. Agriculture in the Nile Valley manifested procedures unlike crop raising or animal husbandry along the Syrian coast, upland valleys or semi-arid outback of the Syrian Sahel. Commodities imported from South or East Asia transited from ports in Yemen or Western Arabia through entrepôts on the Upper Nile to Alexandria, where they were transferred to European carriers that conveyed them to destinations on the Mediterranean north shore and beyond. Agents in each of these stages answered to differing sponsors, aligned their conduct of business with local politics and extracted revenues at levels fluctuating within the mechanisms that governed inter-regional trade throughout this period. Domestic commerce in both urban and rural settings dealt in the exchange of commodities produced locally in a workshop milieu. Control over (and profiteering from) marketing of lucrative staples that funneled revenues to the regime, such as spices, textiles or sugar, became a principal objective of governmental authority, with results that enhanced the Sultanate’s fisc in the short term but compromised its competitive position in the longue durée. These issues are considered from the perspective of agriculture or animal husbandry in Egypt and Syria, the varying extent of control exercised over them by the bureaucracy, interregional trade and its manipulation by the Sultanate over time, the domestic commercial economy, and finally the overt expropriation or clandestine extraction on which the regime relied as licit sources of revenue diminished in the Sultanate’s final century.
Research has proliferated on several topics that have invited new methodological approaches: the rural setting, gendered relations between men and women, communal status of minorities (Christians and Jews), and religious diversity among Muslims, in particular among those who identified as Sufi mystics. New sources and revisionist interpretations of them continue to transform the field of Mamluk Studies. Yet in many instances, findings on these subjects are confined to discoveries of information on discrete conditions or isolated events that do not lend themselves to comprehensive analysis. They often depend on a single source or fragmentary data set, and require imaginative speculation to formulate hypotheses that apply to questions about their broader contexts in society. The chapter will outline the state of research on these subjects and their potential to open new lines of inquiry by highlighting examples that have influenced revisionist interpretations.
In 1722, Daniel Defoe published A Journal of the Plague Year – a supposed account of the ‘great plague’ of 1665. It is commonly thought to be one of his most incisive pieces of ‘realist’ fiction. And, in our moment, one of his most prescient. The purpose of this paper is to revisit Defoe's Journal in order to stimulate reflection on our present experience of living through the ‘plague year’ of 2020. There is much, as we shall see, about governance during a plague that is resonant – but much also about ‘hearts melted into tears’, about suffering, how it is felt and how it is perceived. The purpose of the Journal, according to Defoe at least, was to inform ‘those who come after’, so that they might be better prepared, so that they would not make the same mistakes. We will see.
From 1603 until the mid-nineteenth century, weekly bills of mortality were printed and published in London, providing detailed statistics on births, deaths, and plague fatalities for each parish. This article analyzes the currency of the bills and their numbers in English religious thought during and after the four great plague epidemics London experienced in the course of the seventeenth century (1603–1604, 1625–1626, 1636, and 1665–1666). A broad survey of sermons, pamphlets, treatises, poems, and dialogues from these years reveals not only the bills’ ubiquity as an index of divine punishments, but the new kinds of intellectual work made possible by a multiplicity of numbers keyed to times and places. Claims about the moral, doctrinal, and political meanings behind the plague could now be made with an unprecedented specificity and sophistication, seized upon by High Church Anglicans, Puritans, and Dissenters alike. As an episode in the history of empirical theology, the bills’ ecclesiastical reception vindicates theology's central place in the epistemological transformations of the early modern period, as well as the influence of new kinds of empirical data on the parameters of religious thought.
This chapter provides a historic survey of pandemic responses over the last 650 years from when the plague first became endemic in Europe after 1347. It will show how the role of the state – initially Italian city-states and then the British and other nation-states – changed radically in response. Superseding the appeal to divine intervention for help, governments became involved in protecting and controlling their citizens at the most minute level. Across Europe and elsewhere the full range of tools of pandemic control from surveillance, tracking, quarantine, border patrols and economic support for those unable to work have in fact existed for hundreds of years.
It will argue that it is commerce, trade and war that historically have enabled pandemics to spread – they are not random events, but substantially man-made occurrences. By 2020, we had, in our quest for ever-expanding global markets and trade, created the perfect breeding ground for a new pandemic disease to emerge as we increasingly disturbed the habitats of other species. And we had also provided it with the perfect conditions to spread with our increasingly connected world. COVID-19 was always a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’.
The processes launched at the start of Roman rule continued to support the development of cities and their elites. The 150 years from Hadrian to Diocletian saw enough violence to do severe damage to some of those cities, particularly Alexandria, and occasional revolts disturbed the peace, including one in the Delta at the time of the great plague (smallpox) under Antoninus Pius, which led to the depopulation of many villages. A loss of workers to the plague may have intensified the concentration of landholding in the hands of the wealthy, who could invest in both machinery and capital-intensive crops such as wine. This period also saw the decline of the temples and the beginning of Christianity as a visible (and occasionally persecuted) movement, with the emergence of bishops of Alexandria and the countryside. The Egyptian language acquired a new means of expression in the Coptic alphabet, largely derived from Greek.
uses the biopolitical and socio-environmental perspectives on health constructed in the previous chapters to reinterpret municipal responses to plague. This chapter argues that when Netherlandish cities took action against epidemic spread, they applied pre-existing health policies. It challenges two scholarly biases, namely of crisis and of government. First, actions to prevent spread of the plague are often interpreted as radical innovations, yet many subjects targeted in plague ordinances were usual suspects and recurring problems; already regulated outside the context of plague because they were perceived as posing a (combined) threat to physical and moral communal well-being. Cities employed various strategies, from quarantine and street sanitation to spiritual measures and culling dogs. Secondly, there is a clear need to move beyond a top-down perspective and complicate the playing field of daily dealings with an epidemic through networks of plague care, which are discussed here by focusing on the role of hospitals, medical officials and confraternal caregivers, especially the Cellites.
The chapter explores the prequel to the coronavirus crisis of 2020. Our knowledge of plagues dates back almost to the beginning of recorded history. They have haunted and hounded us for eons, now being no exception to the historical rule. The pandemic that most vividly predates this one, the deadly “Spanish Flu” that spread the world in 1918/19 provides an apt backdrop to the arrival of the new coronavirus for which Americans were prepared, but only poorly. Certainly, poorly in comparison with other countries loosely thought of as US peers, such as Germany in Europe and, in Asia, South Korea. The chapter concludes with a discussion of why people do a poor job of preparing for “predictable disasters.” Disasters which, though they are foretold, we prefer to avoid.
This essay surveys some of the most prominent metaphors used to characterize infectious diseases in eighteenth-century literature. These include military metaphors that portray the disease as the enemy; ‘othering’ metaphors that categorize infection as a foreign immigrant, import, or invader; and commercial metaphors that compare the circulation of a disease with the circulation of currency or commodities. Using Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year as a test case, I demonstrate that multiple disease metaphors often operate within a single text, creating a more nuanced and complex portrait of infection than we might otherwise expect in this period. Ultimately, I argue that disease metaphors in eighteenth-century literature are almost always complicated and equivocal, with writers like Defoe drawing attention to the social and ethical meanings of an epidemic, and not just its terrifying destructive force.
Ancient DNA from Yersinia pestis has been identified in skeletons at four urban burial grounds in Cambridge, England, and at a nearby rural cemetery. Dating to between ad 1349 and 1561, these represent individuals who died of plague during the second pandemic. Most come from normative individual burials, rather than mass graves. This pattern represents a major advance in archaeological knowledge, shifting focus away from a few exceptional discoveries of mass burials to what was normal practice in most medieval contexts. Detailed consideration of context allows the authors to identify a range of burial responses to the second pandemic within a single town and its hinterland. This permits the creation of a richer and more varied narrative than has previously been possible.
Do pandemics have lasting consequences for political behavior? The authors address this question by examining the consequences of the deadliest pandemic of the last millennium: the Black Death (1347–1351). They claim that pandemics can influence politics in the long run if the loss of life is high enough to increase the price of labor relative to other factors of production. When this occurs, labor-repressive regimes, such as serfdom, become untenable, which ultimately leads to the development of proto-democratic institutions and associated political cultures that shape modalities of political engagement for generations. The authors test their theory by tracing the consequences of the Black Death in German-speaking Central Europe. They find that areas hit hardest by that pandemic were more likely to adopt inclusive political institutions and equitable land ownership patterns, to exhibit electoral behavior indicating independence from landed elite influence during the transition to mass politics, and to have significantly lower vote shares for Hitler’s National Socialist Party in the Weimar Republic’s fateful 1930 and July 1932 elections.
Technical innovation in agriculture preceded that in mining, and the value of colonial agricultural production exceeded that of diamonds throughout the nineteenth century. After the Cape received responsible government in 1874 a colonial scientific bureaucracy was gradually expanded to include a veterinary surgeon, a Department of Agriculture, and a state botanist, geologist, entomologist and marine biologist. The discovery of diamonds in the 1860s and Witwatersrand gold in the 1880s reshaped the contours of race and science. Mining became reliant on increasingly sophisticated technology and on cheap black labour. Rapid growth in the mining sector has been analysed by historians in terms of the relationship between capital and labour. Scientific and technological innovations were also critical: applied geology, water pumps, explosives, stamping gear and the recently discovered cyanide process for gold extraction. The geostrategic importance of southern Africa became a point of growing competition, and the borders of a unitary South African state in 1910 emerged out of wars of conquest against African societies and intense conflict between English- and Dutch-speaking citizens. Imperial conquest and expansion were in turn associated with rapid technological change: steamships, railways, transatlantic cables and breech loading rifles. Together these constituted a ‘full-blown socio-technical imaginary’.
This article considers the celebrated elegy by the classical 7th-century Arabic poet, Abu Dhuʾayb al-Hudhali — his ʿayniyya, which ends with ʿayn as a rhyming letter. Analyzing the poem's structure and comparing it with that of two poems composed by Abu Dhuʾayb's teacher, Saʿida b. Juʾayya al-Hudhali, leads to the conclusion that Saʿida's two poems were the main sources on which the pupil drew to create his poem. The sophisticated changes that Abu Dhuʾayb introduced in structure and content, however, made his poem more memorable than those of his teacher. The article raises another question, to which there is, as yet, no definitive answer: what was the true inspiration for Abu Dhuʾayb's poem? Was it the death of his sons, as is traditionally believed, or was it literary: to surpass his teacher in composing a more skillful poem?
Examining the contestation of interpretations around this work, I argue that the proliferation of exegetical material on Sophocles’s Antigone is related to a noncomprehension of the human motives behind her transgressive action. Did she ever love, and is there any suffering in her piety? If she didn’t love (her brother), could she have suffered? I read the play alongside Kamila Shamsie’s postcolonial rewriting of it in Home Fire to elaborate on the relationship between personal loss and collective (and communal) suffering, particularly as it is focalized in the novel by the figure of a young woman who is both a bereaved twin and a vengeful fury.
The Black Death is a secure feature of European and west Asian history; in Chinese history, by contrast, the record of mass epidemic outbreaks over the same centuries is not. As a step towards integrating these two zones into a global history of disease, this article establishes a timeline of roughly a thousand major outbreaks in Ming–Qing China during the century 1567–1666. On the basis of these data, comparison is made of how pandemics were received and interpreted in two delimited zones, the Chinese province of North Zhili (now Hebei) and Tudor and Stuart England, with particular attention to differences in their literary incorporation, religious meaning, and political resonance.
This article explores a smattering of thematic questions that criss-cross the articles in this special pandemics issue; it signposts some reverberations, overlapping responses, and problematic comparisons currently (mid 2020) being made between past pandemics and the tense experiences (and projections going forward) of COVID-19 across the world. The historical pandemics covered here offer an entry point to a fruitful set of genealogies, chronologies, epidemiologies, trajectories, and imaginaries linked to a host of issues: what makes a pandemic ‘global’? What does a global history perspective bring to the table? How does examining germs and genomes shed light on imperialism as a/the pandemic driver? Where do animals, the environment, and ecology fit in and why are they so often excluded from pandemic histories? What counts as medical humanitarianism when health knowledge, know-how, and cooperation ‘from below’ are sidelined? And what came/comes first: a pandemic or a changed world?
Public health in China has become a global concern as a consequence of the outbreak and worldwide spread of COVID-19. This article examines the historical place of China in international and global health. Contrary to prevalent narratives in the history of medicine, China and Chinese historical actors played key roles in this field throughout the twentieth century. Several episodes illustrate this argument: the Qing organization of the International Plague Conference in 1911; the role of China in the work of the interwar League of Nations Health Organization and postwar establishment of the World Health Organization; Cold War medical diplomacy; and Chinese models of primary health care during the 1970s. These case studies together show that Chinese physicians and administrators helped shape concepts and practices of “global health” even before that term rose to prominence in the 1990s, and current events are best understood in the context of this history.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has produced two different narratives in India. One, here described as “historical,” looks back to the pandemics of the colonial past—bubonic plague from 1896, influenza in 1918–19—as a source of comparisons, lessons, and dire warnings for the present. This narrative envisages the reenactment of past scenes, including flight from the cities, victimization of the poor, and the questioning of state authority. The other narrative, here called “insurgent,” questions the value of historical analogies, doubts that history ever substantially repeats itself, and stresses the specificity of postcolonial Indian politics and health. While recognizing the validity of both narratives, the author urges caution in employing colonial history to critique contemporary events and, while recognizing the 1890s plague as a watershed moment, questions whether even the most devastating pandemics (such as 1918's influenza) necessarily result in profound social, political, and health care changes.
This chapter delineates a crisis of public health that occurred throughout the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It shows how it was in response to this crisis that the modern system of universal quarantine took shape. The chapter investigates the series of plague and yellow fever epidemics that breached the defenses of a string of Mediterranean islands and considers the response of European governments. The frequency with which armies and navies crossed the Mediterranean created a massive augmentation of quarantine traffic just as new epidemic threats emerged. Authorities recommitted to a robust approach to quarantine in light of these challenges. Despite wartime debacles that suggested the system might break down, Chapter 1 shows that it emerged stronger than ever. In this way, we see how a brutal series of wars and epidemics counterintuitively fostered transnational sanitary cooperation.