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Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Much as we take comfort in the belief that modern medicine and public health tactics can protect us from horrifying contagious diseases, such faith is dangerously unfounded. So demonstrates Mark Harrison in this pathbreaking investigation of the intimate connections between trade and disease throughout modern history. For centuries commerce has been the single most important factor in spreading diseases to different parts of the world, the author shows, and today the same is true. But in today's global world, commodities and germs are circulating with unprecedented speed.

    Beginning with the plagues that ravaged Eurasia in the fourteenth century, Harrison charts both the passage of disease and the desperate measures to prevent it. He examines the emergence of public health in the Western world, its subsequent development elsewhere, and a recurring pattern of misappropriation of quarantines, embargoes, and other sanitary measures for political or economic gain-even for use as weapons of war. In concluding chapters the author exposes the weaknesses of today's public health regulations-a set of rules that not only disrupt the global economy but also fail to protect the public from the afflictions of trade-borne disease.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18930-8
    Subjects: Health Sciences, History of Science & Technology, History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Abbreviations and acronyms
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. List of illustrations
    (pp. ix-xi)
  5. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  6. Preface and acknowledgements
    (pp. xii-xviii)
  7. CHAPTER 1 Merchants of death
    (pp. 1-23)

    Prior to the fourteenth century, much of Eurasia enjoyed centuries of freedom from epidemic disease. There had been no major outbreak of pestilence since the Plague of Justinian (ad 541–762), or First Plague Pandemic, which had fatally weakened many of the empires around the Mediterranean.¹ After the plague died out, the populations of many parts of Europe, Asia and North Africa began to recover and by the thirteenth century Europe and Asia were enjoying great prosperity and an expansion of trans-continental trade. By the middle of the fourteenth century, however, many parts of Europe had become over-populated and food...

  8. CHAPTER 2 War by other means
    (pp. 24-49)

    In the last chapter we saw how many European countries and some of the American colonies began to regulate trade in order to check the spread of disease. While such measures often enjoyed considerable support in port cities, they could be a major source of tension within and between nation states. Merchants regularly protested against the imposition of quarantine and did their best to evade it. Sometimes they also claimed that their business had been deliberately ruined by competitors who used sanitary measures to their advantage. Such issues had provoked argument among the Italian states for years but it was...

  9. CHAPTER 3 The evils of quarantine
    (pp. 50-79)

    Growing frustration with sanitary constraints upon trade boiled over towards the end of the eighteenth century as quarantine became a focus for radicals on both sides of the Atlantic. Many reformers believed that commercial and political freedoms were inseparable and demanded an end to a practice which seemed to violate both.¹ Having suffered from accusations of self-interest, merchants acquired fresh confidence as their complaints about quarantine began to be echoed by travellers and humanitarian reformers. In one way or another, the spirit of liberty dignified all of these protests and found its way into the medical writings of the period,...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Quarantine and the empire of free trade
    (pp. 80-106)

    In November 1844, a steam-sloop, theEclair, set out from the English naval base of Devonport for the Bights of Biafra and Benin where she joined a naval squadron engaged in the suppression of the slave trade.¹ On 28 September 1845, the vessel returned to Britain with less than a third of her original crew, most having succumbed to a fever contracted while ashore in Sierra Leone. In one sense, there was nothing remarkable about the fate of theEclair, for mortality rates on vessels in the Royal Navy’s West Africa squadron had previously exceeded 50 per cent.² But the...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Yellow fever resurgent
    (pp. 107-138)

    In the 1840s and ’50s many countries on both sides of the Atlantic relaxed their quarantines against yellow fever. There had been no outbreaks of the disease in Europe since it appeared briefly in Gibraltar in 1828 and its absence thereafter engendered a feeling of security. It was as if the beast had returned to its lair in the tropics. France went so far as to unilaterally abandon quarantine against yellow fever in 1847, while in Britain and its Atlantic empire such precautions were either relaxed or abolished. Some North American ports continued to be affected by yellow fever but...

  12. CHAPTER 6 A stranglehold on the East
    (pp. 139-173)

    In 1865 the world watched with horror as cholera broke out among pilgrims gathered at Mecca. The epidemic killed around 30,000 people – nearly a third of those attending – and formed the nucleus of a pandemic which would soon engulf the world. In Russia, with its large but widely dispersed population, around 90,000 perished; in North America, where the disease affected mostly port cities, the figure was nearer 50,000; but in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, embroiled in war with Prussia, fatalities exceeded 165,000. Although the death toll from cholera appears high by today’s standards, in most countries it was generally...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Plague and the global economy
    (pp. 174-210)

    In the last chapter we saw that there were occasional outbreaks of plague in China and the Middle East through the middle of the nineteenth century, some serious enough to disrupt long-distance commerce. But for most people, plague seemed like yesterday’s disease – a fearful reminder of an age before science and sanitation. In 1890, however, an outbreak of plague in southern China mushroomed into a full-blown pandemic. And, whereas earlier waves of plague had affected Eurasia and North Africa primarily, this one circumnavigated the globe, reaching every inhabited continent. Plague spread rapidly along the arteries of a mature global...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Protection or protectionism?
    (pp. 211-246)

    In the nineteenth century the world was plunged into a maelstrom of disease. Although its demographic impact was less than the Black Death or the Columbian Exchange, diseases circulated faster and further than before, traversing oceans and land masses along the pathways of global commerce. Potentially the most devastating were those that affected animals and plants. These diseases had the capacity to destroy the agricultural systems on which humans depended and their consequences – in terms of starvation and social collapse – were often more severe than those of epidemics. But while the world became more closely connected by disease,...

  15. CHAPTER 9 Disease and globalization
    (pp. 247-275)

    By the end of the twentieth century, the austere dichotomies of the Cold War had all but melted away. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe had given rise to feelings of euphoria, of capitalism and liberal democracy spreading triumphantly under the protection of a single hyper-power – the USA.¹ The creation of the World Trade Organization and the removal of many formal tariff barriers also seemed to herald a new era of free trade. But the future was rather different than the prophets of liberal capitalism had foretold. By the 1990s, the rise of Asian ‘Tigers’ such as Singapore,...

  16. CONCLUSION: Sanitary pasts, sanitary futures
    (pp. 276-281)

    This book has charted the passage of disease along the world’s principal arteries of trade; from the caravans of medieval Asia to the myriad pathways of the global economy. It has shown that commerce has been a major factor in the redistribution of diseases, allowing pathogens and their vectors to circulate more widely than before, often with catastrophic results. Each step-change in commercial activity has had profound consequences for the health of humanity, with trade playing a major part in the Black Death, the passage of new infectious diseases to the Americas, and the great exchange of pathogens that accompanied...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 282-331)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 332-363)
  19. Index
    (pp. 364-376)