CONTAGIONISM IN HISTORY

Welcome to this website.  I created this site to make my articles available to other Independent Scholars.  I hope to add other materials relevant to the history of contagionism and contagious diseases.

The picture is a detail of a portrait by William Hogarth thought to be of his friend Dr. John Fothergill   As a member of the Society of Friends, Fothergill refused to sit for his portrait, so Hogarth probably painted him from memory.

Margaret DeLacy                                                                                                        05/30/2013


 

MY ARTICLES

 

English Religious Laws passed between 1660 and 1728

Timeline of policies/admissions of fellows to the London College of Physicians, 1658-1800

Contagion and the Royal Society, 1657-1723 (for a paper given to the American Association for the History of Medicine)

 

Influenza Research and the Medical Profession in Eighteenth Century Britain

The Conceptualization of Influenza in Eighteenth-Century Britain: Specificity and Contagion

Benjamin Franklin and eighteenth-century contagionism

Puerperal Fever in Eighteenth-Century Britain

with A. J. Cain, A Linnaean thesis concerning Contagium vivum: the 'Exanthemata viva' of John Nyander and its place in contemporary thought (.pdf from the National Library of Medicine)

 

Voluntary Vaccination: Deciding the Risk of Unknowable Danger

 

 

Google NGram of the word "Contagion"

 

The first peak shown on this graph, in the 1650s appears to be dominated by the metaphoric use of contagion (e.g. the contagion of sin, the contagion of heresies) and to reflect an increase in religious and political tracts during the Interregnum; the second peak, about 1800, is due to medical controversies over whether acute diseases such as jail fever were contagious.

 

OTHER BOOKS AND ARTICLES

Primary works

These works used to be available online through Google books.  Unfortunately, some of them have been taken offline.     

Anon. A New Discovery of the Nature of the Plague . . . Contrary to the Opinion of Dr. Meade, [sic] Dr. Browne, and others, who give for the First Causes of the Plague . . . Air, Diet, and Disease

(London: T. Bickerton and J. Wilford, n.d. preface dated Aug. 31, 1721

This very rare book is not, strictly speaking, a  contagionist work. It attributed plague to "a subtle active poisonous Body or Insect, very minute ... living on and subsisting by the virulent Matter in the body ... the Air being no more to it, than it is to Birds.  The author, who frequently refers to the similar views of Richard Bradley, suggests that the smaller insects are, the faster they multiply, explaining why plague kills its victims so quickly.  He points out that inanimate particles can't move of their own accord and they become weakened, not increased in power, when they impart their qualities to another body.  Despite Mead's theory that the plague consisted of small venomous particles, bodies could not absorb particles through the pores in the skin because the body constantly exhales through them.  The fact that no epidemic had taken place in England for more than half a century despite many earthquakes, floods, storms, sieges and bad weather showed that these events did not cause the plague.  Similarly, there were many starving and sick people who did not contract plague.  In the second portion of this book, as if he had completely forgotten the argument he had just made, the author blames the bad air emanating from large, closely packed groups of people.  He suggested that the existence of many prison galleys in Marseilles led to the epidemic there and suggested that the largest source for the problem in London was the presence of many prisons within the city.  He called for the removal of criminals to prisons outside the city and for the release of debtors from debtors' prison. The vehemence of his discussion of the plight of London debtors suggests that this advice may have been self-interested, but it was probably sound advice nevertheless.

M.A.C.D. [?Robert Boyle] Systme d'un Medicin Anglois sur la Cause de Toutes Les Especes de Maladies, Avec Les Surprenantes Configurations Des differentes especes de petits Insectes, qu'on voit par le moyen d'un bon Microscope dan le Sang & dan les Urines des differens Malades, & mme de tous ceux qui doivent le devenir Recueilli par M.A.C.D.  (Paris:  Alexis-Xavier-Rene Mesnier, 1726)

"The system of an English Doctor on the cause of all sorts of diseases with the surprising appearances of different species of small Insects, which can be seen by the means of a good Microscope in the Blood and in the Urine of different patients, and also in all those who will become ill"

This entertaining treatise, reported to be by a quack physician and juggler called Robert Boyle, Boile or Boil, claims to be a translation of the third part of a treatise entitled "Systems of an English Doctor, on the nature of God & of Souls, on the Generation of every thing, on the cause of all sorts of Maladies, and on their cure, collected and made intelligible... to everyone".  The author explains that he has only translated the third part because the first part (on the nature of God) would be contrary to the revealed truth of our religion, the second (on generation) would wound the modesty of the chaste, and the fourth (on medicine) would not only make all men their own doctors but also all women. 

The Google version, which is digitized from a copy in the University of Lausanne (2009) includes a sequel, "Suite du Systeme d'un Medicine Anglois, sur la Guerison des Maladies, par lequel sont indiquees les especes de Vegetaux & Mineraux, qui sont des Poisons infallibles pour tuer les differentes especes de petits Animaux, qui causent nos Maladies, Recueilli par M.A.C.D. (Paris, Mesnier: 1727)

"The sequel of the System of an English Doctor on the Cure of Illnesses, by which is indicated the sorts of Vegetables and Minerals which are unfailing poisons for kill the different species of small Animals which cause our diseases".

This attributes the earlier work to conversations the author had had with an English doctor, coming from Ispaham (Isfahan) who had been passing through Europe with the Persian Ambassador in 1715.

For the story of this work, see William Bulloch, History of Bacteriology (1938, Dover edn, New York: 1979), p. 32.

 

Benjamin Marten, A New Theory of Consumptions, More especially of a Phthisis or Consumption of the Lungs (London: 1720)

The first complete account of Contagium Vivum in England.  The first edition appeared in 1720; a second ed. appeared in 1722.

 

Richard Mead, A Short Discourse Concerning Pestilential Contagion and the Methods to be Used to Prevent it London: Printed for Sam. Buckley in Amen-Corner and Ralph Smith at the Royal-Exchange, 1720.

There were nine editions; the last was in 1744.  The book is dedicated to James Craggs, Secretary of State, who would soon become implicated in the scandal over the bursting of the South Sea Bubble.  Craggs lost his son to smallpox in  February, 1621 and died one month later of a stroke.

For more on this work, see Charles-Edward Amory Winslow, The Conquest of Epidemic Disease (Princeton, 1943) and Arnold Zuckerman, "Plague and contagionism in eighteenth-century England: the role of Richard Mead", Bulletin of the History of  Medicine 2004 Summer;78(2):273-308.

Proceedings of the Board of Health in Manchester (Manchester: Printed by S. Russell for Cadell and Davis ca. 1805)

 This interesting title, now on the Open Collections program on Contagion from the Countway Library at Harvard is accessible from an extremely annoying, slow and balky page viewer. If you can, download a .pdf and read from that. They should let Google Books provide it.

 

Secondary Works

 

H[ector] Grasset, "La thorie parasitaire et la phthisie pulmonaire au XVIIIe Sicle", France Mdicale (Nov. 17, 1899), translated by Thomas C. Minor as "The Parasitic Theory and Pulmonary Phthisis in the Eighteenth Century" Cincinnati Lancet-Clinic,  n.s. 44 93: (Jan. 6, 1900), 22-26  and (Jan. 13, 1900), 43.

This is very helpful historical review of eighteenth-century contagionist works. Unfortunately, several proper nouns are misspelled in the Minor translation, making it harder to find the article through Google searches.  As far as I know, 20th. century historians were unaware of this article. I have not been able to locate the original, French, version.

 

William MacMichael, "A Brief Sketch of the Progress of Opinion on the Subject of Contagion; with some Remarks on Quarantine"

http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/temp/async/6735384-1-14.pdf

 

The URL points to the text provided by the Harvard University Library website for "Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics".  This copy, which begins on p. 519 of an unnamed source (perhaps The Pamphleteer) appears to be the same as a work listed by Google Books as being published in London by John Murray in 1826, but the Google link does not provide a text.  MacMichael wrote this work in an effort to refute the arguments of Charles MacLean who had called for an end to quarantines against Plague.  In this short work MacMichael analyzes the views of several British authors about the contagiousness of several febrile diseases including smallpox and scarlet fever. 

 

Articles

 

 

Achtman, Mark, Morelli, Giovanna, Zhu Peixuan et. al. "Microevolution and history of the plague bacillus, Yersinia pestis" Proc. National Academy of Sciences, U.S. A., December 21, 2004;
101(51): 1783717842. Published online 2004 December 14. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0408026101 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC535704/

 

Ayyadurai S, Sebbane F, Raoult D, Drancourt M. "Body lice, Yersinia pestis Orientalis, and Black Death" [letter]. Emerg Infect Dis [serial on the Internet]. May, 2010 .

 http://www.cdc.gov/EID/content/16/5/892.htm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2953993/?tool=pubmed

 

Stephanie Haensch, Raffaella Bianucci, Michel Signoli, et. al, "Distinct Clones of Yersinia pestis Caused the Black Death" Oct 7, 2010 PLoS Pathog 6(10): e1001134. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1001134

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20949072

 

 

For about the past decade, there has been a fierce debate about whether the "third pandemic" of Plague (Yersinia pestis) that broke out during the 19th. century was caused by the same agent as the earlier pandemics known as the Plague of Justinian and the Black Death. DNA analysis of cells recovered from medieval graveyards yielded some evidence that this was the case.  However, the evidence did not convince all doubters.  Some skeptics argued that the earlier pandemics did not conform to the pattern that would be found in a disease carried by rats and rat fleas and suggested that the DNA analysis had used samples contaminated in the lab.  Others argued that the epidemiology of the Black Death suggested a disease that spreads by contagion from person to person not one transmitted by rats and their fleas.  For example, the Black Death appeared in Iceland which does not have rats, and in other places that were considered too cold to sustain an epidemic of Plague.  These three articles appear to resolve the issue.  They identify two variants of Yersinia pestis as the agent of the second pandemic (1348-1750) and suggest a possible additional mechanism of transmission in the form of human lice.  Lice are also the main vectors of typhus.

 

Verena J. Schuenemann, Kirsten Bos, Sharon DeWitte et al. Targeted enrichment of ancient pathogens yielding the pPCP1 plasmid of Yersinia pestis from victims of the Black Death  Approved July 22, 201, PNAS August 29, 2011 1http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/08/24/1105107108

Genetic testing of over 100 skeletal remains in a London plague graveyard yielded evidence of a previously unknown variant of Y. pestis.

 

Charles Singer, "Notes on the Early History of Microscopy" Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine (1914) (Section of the History of Medicine) 7: 247279. PMCID: PMC2003539

A rare full-text public-access copy of one of Singer's early articles courtesy of PubMed 

 

WEBSITES AND BLOGS

 

    "Applying new Methods with GIS/Space-time/behavior in medical Geography" one of many fascinating sets of webpages by Brian Altonen

    "Black Death" page on medievalists. net

   "Books, Health and History" from the New York Academy of Medicine

    Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics From Harvard University, a selection of open-source texts.  Gives relatively little attention to eighteenth-century British works

    Contagions blog by Michelle Ziegler

    Dalhousie University, History of Medicine Resources comprehensive list of major medical resources

    Dissenting Academies: a list on the website "Technical Education Matters" created by Dr. Richard Evans

    Early Modern Online Bibliography a blog developed by Anna Battigelli (SUNY Plattsburgh) and Eleanor Shevlin (West Chester University of Pennsylvania) to facilitate scholarly feedback and discussion pertaining to text databases for the humanities, such as EEBO, ECCO, and the Burney Collection.

    The Galileo Project: Catalog of the Scientific Community in the 16th. and 17th. Centuries compiled by Richard S. Westfall

    History of the Health Sciences World Wide Web Links compiled by Patricia E. Gallagher and Stephen J. Greenberg, a comprehensive listing of major medical history web resources including blogs, journals, biographies of individuals, and sites for particular diseases

    Infectious Diseases: an online exhibit by the Edward Worth Library in Dublin.  Includes sections for Plague, Smallpox, Syphilis, Tuberculosis, Fevers and Theory of Contagion with a well-researched text

    "William Cullen dot net" by Jeff Wolf. A website-cum-blog about Cullen's works and medical ideas with links to additional resources

 

    "Wonders and Marvels": a group blog edited by Holly Tucker includes sections for Medicine and Science and

 Medicine Health and Society

 

HISTORY OF MEDICINE PODCASTS/STREAMING AUDIO AND VIDEO

 

Several medical libraries and history of medicine institutions host history of medicine lectures periodically.  They have begun to make these available as podcasts or streaming audio/video recordings.  The technical quality is often poor--amounting to a recorder near the dais in a large auditorium when the lecture is given, but the lectures themselves are often wonderful.  I don't know of any source that catalogs/indexes these by speaker or subject or even of any master list of these lectures but here are links to a few libraries that have announced the availability of audio/video records of this sort of event

 

Medical History "Highlights of a Decade": reflections by authors of Medical History articles

 

Oregon Health and Science University, Historical Collections and Archives lecture series

 

Oxford Brookes University, "Moments in Medicine"  

 

Reynolds Historical Library, University of Alabama lecture series