Thesis ID: CBB006071963

Yellow Fever in the Imagination and Development of an American New Orleans, 1793-1860 (2019)


Warden, Paul Michael (Author)
Majewski, John (Advisor)

University of California, Santa Barbara
Majewski, John
Publication date: 2019
Language: English

Publication Date: 2019
Physical Details: 216

Focusing on the yellow fever ecology of nineteenth-century New Orleans, this dissertation explores how this disease and the perception of unhealthiness inform imaginations of space and place. It examines, in turn, how this imagination influenced immigration, settlement, capital investment, sectionalism, identity formation, racial theory, and a number of other elements of antebellum southern social and political life. It begins by defining three zones of infection in the Americas—endemic, epidemic and ecdemic—based upon their suitability for the virus and its mosquito vector rather the long-running standard of delineating them based on the propensity for devastating outbreaks. This is an important distinction because, as will become clear later, the constant presence of the disease lends itself to herd immunity. This is crucial to demonstrating that New Orleans, as the primary entrepôt between the U.S. and the Caribbean, occupied a unique position among American port cities due to its disease ecology. By yellow fever ecology, I am referring to the sum of biological factors and human actions that made severe outbreaks of the disease more likely. Applying elements of cognitive mapping and environmental psychology, I argue that a confluence of period environmental and medical theory influenced how a myriad of individuals on both sides of the Atlantic came to imagine the relationship between yellow fever, New Orleans, bodies, race, and the Old Southwest. This project broadens our conception of disease ecology to include the thoughts, preconceptions, and biases of human actors. Further, I contend that these perceptions significantly decreased capital investment and immigration, the latter clearly demonstrated by settlement patterns in the region prior to the American Civil War. In addition, this project considers the response of local lay and medical officials to this crisis. In doing so, I reconceive the development of regional theories of medical distinctiveness as an outgrowth of late-enlightenment, transnational developments in natural science. Rather than a declension narrative in nineteenth-century Louisiana public health, I show that the resistance of local officials to northern public health policy was an important step in the early trajectory of what would become tropical medicine. Broadly conceived, this dissertation contributes to our understanding of how perceptions of health and wellness, as well as their inverse, both shape and reveal deeper social and economic conflicts. By using disease as an analytical framework, my work places the U.S. South within global discourses of post-enlightenment science and medical theory, as well as the development of racialized colonial/tropical medicine. When considered alongside more traditional topics in southern studies, the result is a far more complex narrative that demonstrates how the perceptions and reality of this disease environment affected the imagination and development of this city.

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Authors & Contributors
Apel, Thomas
Alcalá Ferráez, Carlos
Carter, Tim
Dickerson, James L.
Engineer, Urmi
Finger, Simon
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
American Historical Review
Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Journal of American History
Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History
University of California, Santa Cruz
Boydell Press
Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Cornell University Press
John Wiley & Sons
Louisiana State University Press
Yellow fever
Public health
Disease and diseases
Infectious diseases
Rush, Benjamin
Finlay, Carlos Juan
Franklin, Benjamin
Reed, Walter
Deléry, Charles François
Jean Charles Faget
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
20th century
20th century, early
17th century
21st century
United States
New Orleans (Louisiana, U.S.)
Philadelphia, PA
Great Britain
United States. Public Health Service

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