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Plague and Public Health in Early Modern Seville

Plague and Public Health in Early Modern Seville

Kristy Wilson Bowers
Volume: 26
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 152
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  • Book Info
    Plague and Public Health in Early Modern Seville
    Book Description:

    Plague and Public Health in Early Modern Seville offers a reassessment of the impact of plague in the early modern era, presenting sixteenth-century Seville as a case study of how municipal officials and residents worked together to create a public health response to epidemics that protected both individual and communal interests. It argues in particular for a redefinition of what "public health" meant in the early modern era, noting the efforts of city officials to protect both individual health and communal welfare as they negotiated a series of balances: between individual and communal needs, between public health and economic needs, between municipal and royal interests. Based on extensive primary sources held in the municipal archive of Seville, the work argues that a careful reading of the records shows a critical difference between how plague regulations were written and how they were enforced, a difference that reflects an unacknowledged process of negotiation aimed at preserving balance within the community. The book makes an important contribution to the scholarly history of epidemics, and in particular to the study of the impact of plague in Spain, which until now has received scant attention from historians. Kristy Wilson Bowers received her PhD from Indiana University and teaches in the History Department at Northern Illinois University.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-801-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    The first half of the twentieth century brought the hope and expectation that modern science could eradicate disease, that humanity could dominate and control its greatest unseen enemy, microbes. In the 1940s new penicillin treatments helped reduce deaths from infections, while further advances in vaccines helped reduce or eradicate common childhood diseases such as measles, whooping cough, and smallpox. But the lessons of the second half of the century showed just how difficult true mastery of the microscopic world would be, as microbes continued to mutate, shift, and jump from one host to another. Emerging diseases, many of them transferred...

  6. Chapter One Early Modern Seville: Balancing Growth and Governance
    (pp. 15-29)

    The sixteenth century was a golden age not only for Spain as a country, but more particularly for the city of Seville.¹ Spain rose to great power in this century, and Seville played a crucial role in that expansion. As Spain expanded her presence in the Americas, establishing colonies and exploiting resources, an increasing bureaucracy was necessary to oversee it all. In 1503 the crown established the Casa de la Contratación to help manage the emerging shipping and trade with the Americas, as well as to train the ships’ pilots who navigated the route and to maintain useful up-to-date scientific...

  7. Chapter Two Perceptions of Plague: Balancing Disease Concepts
    (pp. 30-51)

    Coping with plague in the early modern era required a multifaceted balancing act by both officials and residents. Although not all the balances discussed in this and subsequent chapters were performed consciously or with foresight, in the end they nonetheless achieved their unacknowledged goal: to protect individual health while also protecting the health and functioning of the community. To do so, officials found themselves struggling to balance a variety of needs.

    The next chapter will explore the actions of the officials as they sought to keep the city running as smoothly as possible. To better understand those actions, however, it...

  8. Chapter Three Negotiating Public Health: Balancing the Individual and the Community
    (pp. 52-68)

    In late January 1582, Seville’s city council sent word across one section of its tierra, the territory to the northeast known as the Sierra de Constantina, informing local leaders in the towns there of newly imposed restrictions on travel to the city. Those leaders in turn sent out town criers to announce the new restrictions in the public plazas, and city councilmen in Seville ordered similar announcements be made in the city. At each of the city gates around Seville, authorities notified guards and posted on public bulletin boards the names of towns newly declared suspect of harboring a plague...

  9. Chapter Four The Wider Politics of Public Health: Balancing Urban and Rural
    (pp. 69-88)

    Plague commissioners remained highly visible as they maintained contact with large numbers of residents, moving around the city to follow up on petitions, inspect goods, and check up on the sick. Amid this flurry of activity, a number of commissioners were also sent outside the city to carry out many of the same activities in the towns and villages of the tierra. They did so not just in the interest of protecting the city’s residents, but also in the interest of all residents within the tierra. Monitoring the movement of people and goods around the countryside allowed commissioners to provide...

  10. Chapter Five City and Crown: Balancing Authorities
    (pp. 89-99)

    In June 1581, King Philip II received a lengthy complaint about mismanagement of a public health crisis in Seville during an ongoing epidemic. This was the epidemic that later chroniclers attributed to catarrh (catarro), which spread virulently beginning in 1580 and was still prevalent the next year.¹ This complaint, however, talks not only of a vague contagion, but specifically refers to plague (mal de peste) and the dangers of its spread. The complaint began by acknowledging the good intentions of the royally appointed Asistente, but castigated all other municipal officials as neglectful. In particular, it specifically charged the Alguacil mayor...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 100-106)

    The plagues and pestilence of the early modern era continue to fascinate in part because they defy clear definition. Plague was more than a diagnosis, it was a multifaceted and changeable idea that held many different, and sometimes conflicting, meanings. Both feared and ignored, it was a constant, albeit not a continual, threat. Perceived as both unpredictable and yet controllable, its effects were felt in nearly all aspects of European life for several centuries. This particular complexity of plague, taken within a more generally complex understanding of all disease, gave rise to an intricate system of public health that depended...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 107-120)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 121-134)
  14. Index
    (pp. 135-140)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 141-141)