2012-2013 Schedule

Autumn, 2012

Opening Lecture, September 14:
Randall Packard: Welch Professor of the History Medicine, Johns Hopkins
State, Environment and Disease: Dengue Fever and the Struggle for the Control of Urban Spaces in Singapore and Delhi
3:00-4:30, Student Alumni Council Room, Student Union

In the last twenty years Dengue fever has emerged as the most important vector borne viral disease in the world. Across the globe epidemics of dengue fever and its more deadly variant dengue hemorrhagic fever have occurred with increasing frequency in tropical and sub-tropical cities. The global expansion of dengue has been driven on the one hand by rapid urbanization, leading to overcrowding and inadequate sanitation, and on the other to increases in global commerce and communications, which have encouraged the global spread of both dengue vectors and various strains of the dengue virus. There are no drugs to treat dengue, nor vaccines to prevent it. The control of dengue, to the extent that it has been possible, has relied instead on time–tested methods for eliminating the breeding sites of the mosquitoes that transmit dengue, and particularly the Aedes egyptei mosquito, which also transmits Yellow Fever. As in Cuba and Panama at the beginning of the 20th century, efforts to control this vector have pitted state authorities against urban residents for control of urban spaces. These efforts to, in effect, transform urban environments have met with limited success. While 16 countries in Latin America successfully eradicated the Aedes egyptei mosquitoes during the 1950s and 60s, none have successfully done so since the 1970s. This paper attempts to explain the failure of recent control efforts, by exploring the attempts by government authorities in two very different cities, Singapore and Delhi, to control the urban spaces that provide a home for the Aedes mosquitoes and a breeding ground for recurrent dengue epidemics.

September 28:
Andrew Price Smith, Colorado College
Climate Change, Disease, and the State: Lessons from History
3:00-4:30, Furniss Conference Room, Room 120 Mershon Center

Humanity is confronted with a world of profound and increasing ecological disequilibrium, including the prospect of significant climate change. Dr. Price-Smith analyzes the manner in which global climate change ‘may’ affect the global spread of disease, looking at preliminary evidence from the natural sciences. He then examines the effects of several infectious diseases (malaria, dengue, schistosomiasis) on human capital, and assesses their likely impact on economic productivity, and the body politic. His analyses are based upon the historical effects of disease upon the sovereign state, and thus history informs his analysis of state-society relations, and state capacity. He argues that environmental change erodes the health and prosperity of societies, which may in turn undermine effective governance in moderately affected regions.

October 5:
Natasha Sarkar, CHR Junior Faculty Fellow
Plague germs can penetrate the celestial dress, but plague measures cannot: Mapping Plague Narratives in British India
3:00-4:30, Dulles 168

British India’s experience with the plague in the late nineteenth century has been deeply influenced and conditioned by the socio-political realities of both time and place. This paper provides a comprehensive understanding of the plague years, through an account of shifting perceptions of plague within different historical contexts; inter-regional diffusion in time and space; colonial attempts to contain the epidemic in the face of cultural defiance, political resistance and the prevalence of non-biomedical options of treatment. Rural areas have been practically left out of the scope of public health in studies on South Asian medical history. The paper therefore investigates plague in Punjab where it had largely been a rural phenomenon; to discover if its inhabitants remained outside the purview of western medicine, and to explore the urban-rural dichotomy in plague machinery as it came to be implemented in Bombay and Punjab. Nationalist developments at the turn of the century witnessed the growing influence of the Indian National Congress. The socio-political ramifications of such developments and the perceptions of these political actors would undoubtedly influence the response of the masses to colonial plague measures. Indigenous attitudes, however, were markedly distinct in character, the plague story being that of disparate voices, from Bombay, Punjab, Calcutta, across religious communities, caste groups and professions. The attempt has been to encapsulate all the contradictions that come from being a multi-religious, multi-lingual and multi-cultural society – a place wonderfully vibrant and dense with connections.

October 19: Mini-conference on Health and Environment in Japan
2:30-5:30, Dulles 168
David Howell, Harvard University
How Green Was My Night Soil: Waste and Environment in Nineteenth-Century Japan

Excrement was a hot commodity in the cities of nineteenth-century Japan. The widespread use of night soil as an organic fertilizer meant that residents of big cities such as Edo (Tokyo) and Osaka could sell their waste rather than dispose of it themselves. Thanks to this trade, early modern Japanese cities enjoy a reputation as remarkably green spaces, in which residents lived in salubrious harmony with nature. Certainly, Japan’s poopless cities were more hygienic than their fetid counterparts in the west, though the environmental and public health benefits of the night soil trade were entirely fortuitous. In this paper I will survey the disposal of human waste and garbage and consider the effects of their commodification on the environment and public health. I will also consider how Japanese understandings about the relationship between waste and health may have changed in the wake of the opening to the west in the late 1850s.

Brett L. Walker, Regents Professor, Montana State University, Bozeman;
Professor, College of Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota
The Great Convergence: Dissecting the Nature of Japan’s Historical Ascendency
Comments, James Bartholomew, Philip Brown, Ohio State

In what he calls the “Great Divergence,” historian Kenneth Pomeranz documents the economic decisions that set imperial China and early modern Western Europe on divergent historical paths that later led to European ascendancy. In my project, I document what I call the “Great Convergence,” or those historical similarities, particularly in the realm of the history of science and medicine, between early modern Japan and Western Europe that help explain Japan’s rise to global power. Most historians credit Japan’s master imitator skills for the country’s rise to prominence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I argue that close scrutiny of Japanese macro-historical patterns, in particular attitudes toward nature and aspects of medical sciences, as well as the country’s epidemiological patterns, reveal that Japan shared fundamental similarities with Western Europe. I draw on the subfields of “deep history” and “neurohistory” to explain some of the similarities between Japan and Western Europe, offering one explanation as to why Japan challenged the West during the Pacific War and, afterwards, rose from the rubble to become the only Asian member of the G7 nations. If convergent evolution explains the manner in which separate species arrive at similar evolutionary strategies to cope with changing environments, then “The Great Convergence” explains the manner in which members of Homo sapiens, though geographically and culturally separated, design similar social and cultural patterns to satisfy shared psychotropic needs rooted in our shared neurohistory.

November 2:
Daniel Royles, CHR Dissertation Fellow
Black Men Loving Black Men is the Revolutionary Act of the 1980s
3:00-4:30, Dulles 168

This paper describes the efforts of black gay intellectuals and activists to curb the spread of AIDS through consciousness-raising and the affirmation of same-sex desire among African American men. Through the New York City writer’s collective Other Countries and the black gay men’s social and political advocacy group Gay Men of African Descent, they challenged dominant black gender and sexual norms as well as race blindness among gay whites by publicizing black gay identity through their work, arguing that the invisibility of same-sex desire among African American men led them to engage in behaviors that put them at risk for contracting HIV. Composed of writers such as Essex Hemphill and filmmaker Marlon Riggs, Other Countries turned out the anthologies In the Life and Sojourner: Black Gay Voices in the Age of AIDS, while Gay Men of African Descent produced an HIV prevention public service announcement that showcased same-sex intimacy among black men specifically to counteract the absence of representations of gay men of color from the mainstream media. Furthermore, these artists and activists looked to African spiritual tradition to affirm the place of same-sex desire within contemporary African American life, and to the work of anti-imperial writers like Frantz Fanon to understand and challenge their own marginalization as both racial and sexual minorities. Thus, they articulated a radical sense of black gayness distinct from both mainstream white gay men and the straight black community, looking beyond more conventional HIV prevention measures such as condom distribution and safer sex education to issues of identity and consciousness as a means to stem the rising tide of the AIDS epidemic.

November  9:
Dan Smail, Harvard University
Neuroscience and the Dialectics of History
3:00-4:30, Dulles 168

By all accounts, the emergence of global capitalism in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries marked a crucial transformation in the human relationship with consumer goods. Our relationship with goods, however, is far older. Goods were present at the making of humanity itself early in the Pleistocene, and over the ensuing millennia they became caught up in our cultures, our patterns of communication, and even our nervous systems. Drawing on insights from neuroscience and evolutionary biology, this paper sketches out a deep history of the coevolutionary relationship between people and material culture.

November 16:
Kirk R. Smith, Professor of Global Environmental Health, UC Berkeley
Global Warming, Public Health, and Human Futures: Thoughts on Scheffler’s “Afterlife” Thesis
3:00-4:30, Dulles 168

A premise behind today’s growing concern about climate change is that the future matters, i.e., that we today should seek to avoid doing irreparable damage to people whom we will never know and, indeed, are mostly not even born yet. From quite different angles, this premise is also subject to exploration in moral philosophy including by John Rawls, the most prominent philosopher of the 20th century through extension of his concept of the “Veil of Ignorance.” Currently, Sam Scheffler, one of the most prominent living moral philosophers, is indirectly addressing this question in a series of lectures around the world entitled “the Afterlife”. In these, he argues that, in spite of evidence that people disregard the future beyond themselves – Pigou’s lament about our “defective telescopic faculty” or Samuelson’s Golden Rule of economics to “always act to optimize present value” – there is even more powerful evidence that we actually act in ways showing that we regard a continuing human future as more important than even our own personal survival or anything else in the present. Taking inspiration from these philosophers as well from literature (e.g., PD James, Kafka), I will explore the critical but largely hidden importance of the population “Afterlife” in current debates about future extreme climate change scenarios as now emerging from global modeling.

Spring 2013:

Tuesday, January 8:
Opening lecture
Bruce Campbell, Queen’s Univ., Belfast, ret.:
The Great Transition: Climate, Disease and Society in the 13th and 14th Centuries
3:00-4:30, Thompson Library 165

Around the globe the period c.1270 to c.1420 witnessed profound changes in the trajectory of historical trends. Physical, biological and human processes were all involved in this ‘great transition’, whose full ecological and geographical dimensions are only now coming to light thanks to detailed research into past climates and renewed scientific interest in the history of plague.
From the 1270s reductions in solar irradiance destabilised long-established global circulation patterns. As one climate regime gave way to another, extreme climate events occurred with a heightened frequency, including consecutive years of persistent heavy rain in north-western Europe and significant failures of the hitherto reliable Asian and Indian monsoons. Mega-droughts in Eurasia’s semi-arid steppe-land interior had particularly significant ramifications. Here, ecosystem stress undermined carrying capacities of humans, livestock and ground-burrowing mammals and triggered initial spread of the Yersinia pestis bacterium from sylvatic-rodent to commensal-rodent hosts and thence human victims.
At this stage bubonic plague’s capacity to infect humans was inhibited by reliance upon the rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) as its sole vector. Not until human ectoparasites, the human flea (Pulex irritans) and human louse (Pediculus humanus humanus), had become biologically activated as vectors was plague able to spread swiftly and more directly through vulnerable human populations, misleadingly resembling the diffusion pattern of viral diseases spread directly from human to human. Recently opened trans-Eurasian communications plus dense populations and administrative and commercial networks built up during the Latin West’s great demographic and economic boom of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, further aided and abetted introduction and rapid pan-continental diffusion of the deadly pathogen and ensured that humans were as much agents as victims of the pandemic.
Between 1347 and 1375 four major plague pandemics along with more localised outbreaks reduced Europe’s population by between a third and a half. Asia’s population also shrank, although whether from plague, other ‘pestilences’, or climatically induced ecological dislocation and political collapse remains far from clear. Institutional resilience and socio-economic responses to these environmental hazards nevertheless varied enormously. In some of Europe’s more commercialised regions the loss of numbers proved to be more of a boon than a misfortune. Hence it was in the aftermath of the Black Death that Western Europe gradually began to gain ascendancy over eastern Asia while, within Europe, economic leadership started to pass from Italy to Flanders, Holland and eventually England.

Feb 1: Mini-conference on Health and Disease in Africa:
2:30-5:30, Dulles 168
Mari Webel, Postdoctoral Fellow in African Studies and Global Health, Emory University
Gland-feelers, Researchers, and Elusive Patients: Perspectives on Sleeping Sickness Control in East Africa

This talk, based on archival and oral history sources, examines colonial public health campaigns against sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis) in the early twentieth century. It traces the advent and development of German sleeping sickness research and prevention work in the Great Lakes region among mobile, inter-colonial populations of patients and researchers, exploring how the search for potential patients defined the scope and scale of colonial interventions into everyday life. Efforts to identify and track people infected with trypanosomes drewAfrican political leaders, colonial doctors, and affected communities into new relationships, and transformed established political and economic arrangements in their wake. Key to the effort to identify sleeping sickness cases was a cohort of medical auxiliaries known as “gland-feelers,” who surveyed populations for signs of sleeping sickness and mediated people’s movements into and out of research and treatment sites. Centered on these gland-feelers, the paper locates sleeping sickness work within overlapping and entangled claims of care and authority made by colonial doctors and royal elites, which at once advanced and complicated the day-to-day business of governing. The paper also considers how small-scale histories of sleeping sickness campaigns can inform analyses of current global health policies, as sleeping sickness continues on its transition from “colonial disease” to a “neglected tropical disease,” one now targeted for elimination in the coming decade.

Julie Livingston, Rutgers University
Neoplastic Africa: Mapping Networks of Toxicity and Knowledge

This talk, based on a combination of historical and ethnographic research, maps the cancer epidemic that is rapidly emerging across the African continent in historical, institutional, and intellectual terms. It queries what kinds of biological publics are envisioned in African public health, and assumed by a simple model of epidemiological transition premised on a progressive developmental telos, and what sorts of cancers have formed the shifting center of gravity in oncology. It examining the constellation of intellectual, economic, and institutional forces through which the image of a biologically simple, cancer-free African public emerged historically. A curious element of this history is the growth and subsequent decline of a once promising center of oncology in East Africa. Indeed half a century ago, researchers in east and central Africa made significant contributions to the field of cancer immunology, and to clinical oncology. At the center of this work was a recognition that certain cancers can arise as co-infections in immunochallenged patients, but by the early 1970s the work has ceased and oncology had moed on. Finally the paper charts the contemporary implications of this history of medicine and public health by considering the transnational markets of toxic waste facilitated by this (false) image of a cancer free Africa, and the uncertainties surrounding the new HPV vaccines (for genital cancers) now making their way to Africa.

February 15 
John Davis, CHR Junior Faculty Fellow
Geoepidemiology, Chemistry, and Culture: The Environmental Approach to Cholera in Russia, 1892-1905
2:00-3:30, Dulles 168

This paper argues that Russian physicians’ environmental approach to cholera was based upon the country’s particular geographic circumstances, the training of its physicians, and the complex sociocultural makeup of the Tsarist Empire. With broad borders and coastal areas adjacent to places where cholera was semi-endemic, and sitting directly in the path of major conduits of travel between the Far East and Europe, the nation was particularly vulnerable to cholera carriers. Russian physicians considered it unlikely that they could prevent cholera from crossing their borders. Many of them were trained in the research schools of the Parisian, Louis Pasteur, and the Munich Professor of Hygiene, Max von Pettenkofer. Both men were originally chemists and concentrated on germ-environment interactions. Russian physicians were therefore highly skeptical of the “contagionist” principles that Berlin’s Robert Koch endorsed. Forced to deal with an uneducated population and border peoples from different religions and cultures, early attempts at applying quarantine and other contagionist measures caused cholera riots. Tsarist, and later Soviet, physicians developed a unique reactive system relying on quick response and a broad array of measures designed to undermine the conditions that bred epidemics.

March 1
Matthew Klingle, Bowdoin College
Sweet Blood: Toward an Environmental History of Diabetes, Chronic Disease, and Race in North America
3:00-4:30, Dulles 168

This paper is part of my larger project, tentatively titled “Sweet Blood: History and the Nature of Diabetes and Chronic Disease in America,” in which I trace the environmental history of the diabetes outbreak from its antecedents in the mid-nineteenth century to the present. I track how changes in nutrition, plus other environmental and social factors, may explain the increased prevalence of diabetes mellitus, specifically Type 2, among all Americans, and among certain Americans in particular by the late twentieth century: Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and the rural and urban poor.
In this paper, I focus on the work of two pioneering epidemiologists—notably Kelly West of Oklahoma, the putative “father” of modern diabetes epidemiology and a leader in the field of comparative and global DM epidemiology, and Peter Bennett, principal investigator of the Pima Indian studies in western Arizona—to explore how changing conceptions of metabolic disease and ideas about Native American bodies and environment shaped broader biomedical understandings of diabetesetiology, treatment, and prevention for Native Americans and people living with diabetes from all backgrounds.

April 5
Sarah Hodges, University of Warwick
Biotrash: The Urban Metabolism of Medical Garbage in India
3:00-4:30, Dulles 168

Is a brisk resale market in used disposable syringes a dividend of India’s new economy?
In this talk I explore the economic afterlives of what modern medicine routinely discards —things like used syringes, plastic tubing, and emptied blood bags. I tell the stories of Chennai’s biotrash buyers and sellers and their quest to move biotrash across their city and across the globe.
Using these accounts of medical garbage on its journey from waste to resource—from hospital corridors to urban scrap markets and beyond—in this talk I also tell a larger story that connects India, globalization and modern medicine during a celebrated chapter of India’s recent history. Since the 1980s, India has experienced significant economic growth alongside new policies of market liberalisation. By tracking the everyday detritus of India’s modern medical practice, this book illuminates the central role of biomedical science in the making of a new, global India, as well as the sinews that connect India’s recent success to its constitutive underside.

Series closing lecture: April 12:
Gregg Mitman, Vilas Research and William Coleman Professor of the History of Science, Medical History, and Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Ecological Imperialism Revisited: Entanglements of Disease, Commerce, and Knowledge in a Global World
3:00-4:30, Thompson Library 165