Article ID: CBB478133012

Global Health in a Semi-Globalized World: History of Infectious Diseases in the Medieval Period (2021)


The field of infectious disease history has been transformed in the past decade in large part because of fortuitous developments in several fields, most importantly genetics. The medieval period (ca. 500 to ca. 1500) has proved particularly important for these developments, not simply because it is now the earliest period from which whole genomes of several bacterial and viral pathogens have been retrieved, but also because the narratives that can be constructed about disease emergence and dissemination are most robust for this period. This essay briefly surveys the transformative work in molecular biology that has allowed reconstruction of the evolutionary histories of the main pathogens that have afflicted humankind. Then, using the example of plague, it shows why the evolutionary narratives of genetics yield information valuable to historians, and gives examples of the ways historical work has been transformed by combining the evidence from genetics with documentary evidence. The complementarity of material and cultural sources is especially fruitful for work employing the perspectives of global history. The essay concludes by arguing that infectious disease history from the pre-modern period can also be used to model the phenomena of emerging diseases in our own day, of which COVID-19 is only the most recent example. Hence, the urgency of bringing new methods of exploring disease history immediately into classrooms and public forums.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Article Nükhet Varlık; (2021)
Plague in the Mediterranean and Islamicate World (/isis/citation/CBB072233079/)

Article Monica H. Green; (2020)
The Four Black Deaths (/isis/citation/CBB190514768/)

Book Koch, Tom; (2011)
Disease Maps: Epidemics on the Ground (/isis/citation/CBB001250403/)

Article Monica H. Green; (2020)
Emerging Diseases, Re-Emerging Histories (/isis/citation/CBB050271628/)

Book Thomas J. Bollyky; (2018)
Plagues and the Paradox of Progress: Why the World Is Getting Healthier in Worrisome Ways (/isis/citation/CBB703607686/)

Thesis Bresalier, M C; (cited 2010)
Transforming Flu: Medical Science and the Making of a Virus Disease in London, 1890--1939 (/isis/citation/CBB001567257/)

Article Matheus Alves Duarte Da Silva; Jules Alexander Skotnes Brown; (2021)
Emerging Infectious Diseases and Disease Emergence: Critical, Ontological and Epistemological Approaches (/isis/citation/CBB898539128/)

Article Maria Conforti; (2021)
History of Epidemics: A Bibliographical Essay on Secondary Sources in Italian and on Italy (/isis/citation/CBB899693707/)

Article Abeysinghe, Sudeepa; (2014)
An Uncertain Risk: The World Health Organization's Account of H1N1 (/isis/citation/CBB001420418/)

Article Janakan, Gnananandan; Ellis, Harold; (2013)
Dr Thomas Aitchison Latta (c.1796--1833): Pioneer Of Intravenous Fluid Replacement in the Treatment of Cholera (/isis/citation/CBB001421950/)

Article Nükhet Varlık; (2020)
Rethinking the History of Plague in the Time of Covid-19 (/isis/citation/CBB776966901/)

Article Buell, Paul D.; (2012)
Qubilai and the Rats (/isis/citation/CBB001211310/)

Article Paloma Ruiz Vega; (2021)
Farmacia e medicina nelle pandemie di peste nel corso della storia (/isis/citation/CBB819821879/)

Article Mischa Meier; (2020)
The ‘Justinianic Plague’: An “Inconsequential Pandemic”? A Reply (/isis/citation/CBB636142556/)

Book Byrne, Joseph Patrick; (2012)
Encyclopedia of the Black Death (/isis/citation/CBB001251684/)

Book Lester K. Little; (2008)
Plague and the End of Antiquity: The Pandemic of 541-750 (/isis/citation/CBB393953172/)

Book Carol Symes; Monica H. Green; (2015)
Pandemic Disease in the Medieval World: Rethinking the Black Death (/isis/citation/CBB034189025/)

Authors & Contributors
Green, Monica H.
Varlik, Nükhet
Buell, Paul D.
Koch, Tom
Byrne, Joseph Patrick
Abeysinghe, Sudeepa
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Isis Bibliography of the History of Science
Sudhoffs Archiv: Zeitschrift fuer Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Science in Context
Journal of Medical Biography
American Historical Review
University of Chicago Press
Loyola University of Chicago
University of Cambridge (United Kingdom)
Cambridge University
University of Exeter (United Kingdom)
Disease and diseases
Infectious diseases
Public health
Medicine and society
Latta, Thomas Aitchison
Koch, Robert
Smith, Theobald
Pasteur, Louis
Time Periods
19th century
21st century
20th century
14th century
Early modern
Mediterranean region
London (England)
United States
World Health Organization (WHO)

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment