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

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9780814722329: 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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About 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 Sénégalais in French West Africa, 1857-1960.

Review:

“The 1800s were, from Jenner to Pasteur to Koch, the years in which more progress was made in controlling infectious disease than in the previous 10,000, yet at the end of that century Plague swept round the world and killed multitudes as if to admonish us for our arrogance. Most of us today, even students of medical history, have avoided paying heed to that admonishment. Echenberg’s excellent scholarship and scientific sophistication oblige us, as we cower under the threat of avian flu, to pay the Third Bubonic Plague pandemic the attention it deserves.”
-Alfred Crosby,University of Texas and author of Children of the Sun: A History of Humanity's Unappeasable Appetite for Energy



“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’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



“Echenberg does an excellent job of parsing the cultural, medical, and political environments of ten different cities and explaining the political, racial, and medical ineptitudes that failed to curtail the plague.”
-The Hawaiian Journal of History



“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



“In an era when global issues have come to dominate public health discourse, Echenberg depicts the bubonic plague epidemic that struck six continents in the decades around 1900. With sophistication and sensitivity, he parses the multiple medical cultures, political systems, and varieties of popular response that met the plague. Few historians would take on such a daunting task: of chronicling an epidemic in ten cities, working with sources in more than a dozen languages, and comprehending multiple systems of medical thought. Echenberg pulls it off. Plague Ports is a masterwork of global health history.”
-Margaret Humphreys,Duke University



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



“An extensive comparative study.”
-Science News



“A significant contribution to the history of the modern pandemic.”
-Carol Benedict,Georgetown University

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