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Ecological Imperialism Revisited: Entanglements of Disease, Commerce and Knowledge in a Global World

Date: March 4, 2013
Time: 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM

Light refreshments at 5:30 p.m.; Lecture at 6 p.m.

Speaker(s):

Gregg Mitman, PhD, University of Wisconsin—Madison

Sponsored by: Section on the History of Medicine and Public Health

Location: The New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029


This talk examines how American military and industrial expansion overseas -- witnessed firsthand by doctors in the American occupation of the Philippines, on the coffee plantations of the United Fruit Company, in the trenches of the Great War and on the rubber plantations of Firestone in Liberia -- depended upon and helped bring into view an ecological understanding of disease in the service of capital that would, in turn, become the scientific foundation upon which later narratives of ecological imperialism relied. The appearance of disease as an agent of empire in the writing of global environmental histories is deeply entangled with ecological and evolutionary understandings of disease that emerged in the wake of the First World War.  Hans Zinsser, who harnessed the tools of ecology and evolution to tell the biography of typhus in his popular 1935 book Rats, Lice, and History, along with his Harvard colleagues Richard Strong and George Shattuck, had, in their travels across the globe, become increasingly preoccupied with the movements of diseases like typhus, syphilis and yellow fever and their role in human history.  This same preoccupation culminated, forty years ago, in Alfred Crosby's The Columbian Exchange and, a few years later, in Plagues and Peoples, by William McNeill, two grand historical narratives on a global scale driven by the movement of plants, people and parasites across space and time.

About the Speaker(s)

Gregg Mitman, PhD, is Vilas Research and William Coleman Professor of History of Science, Medical History, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. His most recent book, Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape our Lives and Landscapes (Yale University Press, 2007), was awarded the 2012 William H. Welch Medal from the American Association for the History of Medicine.

 

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