The Heritage of Disease: Place and Memory in the History of European Epidemics

Dr Duncan Mclean, PhD (Charles University / Anglo-American University, Faculty of Arts, Institute of World History)


The role of epidemics has long been recognized as a significant factor in broad historical change, be it in the political, social or economic sphere. By its very nature contagious disease cannot be viewed within the constructs of national history. But despite knowing no borders epidemics, especially in their understanding and remembrance, are often presented this manner. The aim of the paper will be to explore contemporary representations of European epidemic disease, both in terms of place and memory. Key questions to address will include how what has often been portrayed through national narratives can have pan-European (and even global) implications? How the understanding of epidemics can be considered a part of pan-European heritage? How perception and remembrance of disease has evolved over time and in different contexts? And finally, how this is represented today? Examples to consider could include (but not be limited to) representations of the Black Death, such as the display of bones in Cesky Krumlov; Puerperal Fever (even as localized outbreaks) through the Semmelweis Museum in Budapest; cholera through John Snow and the Broad Street pump in London; along with a variety of sanatoriums and quarantine stations. In terms of methodology, relevant literature of each chosen epidemic will be reviewed placing the pathology, and eventual understanding, in its relevant context before reviewing physical manifestations of remembrance today. Expected outcomes will include new perspectives on the remembrance of European epidemic disease as part of our common heritage, both scientific and cultural.