Over the coming year, I would like to organize a new society specifically on the study of infectious diseases in the past. It is called Contagions: Society for Historic Infectious Disease Studies. It is open to everyone working on contemporary or historical aspects infectious diseases that can be studied in the past. Examples of these diseases include plague, cholera, smallpox, leprosy, influenza, tuberculosis, malaria, brucellosis, rinderpest, potato blight, typhoid fever, parasites (worms, mites), etc. As this list illustrates, I think diseases of humans, animals, and plants should all be included because they all affect human health and nutrition. The organisms themselves are a point of continuity throughout time. As ancient DNA technology expands the list of ancient infectious diseases that can be identified in time and place is likely to grow by leaps and bounds. I believe that it is helpful to have people who study them today in communication with those who study them in the past via biology, history, epidemiology, public health, archaeology, ecology, climate and more. This is a truly interdisciplinary topic.
To begin, there are only two goals:
- Organize sessions for academic conferences. Initially, the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo, but perhaps others as well.
- Create an email discussion list on google groups open to all members. Membership in the google group will constitute membership in the group. I can act as a gatekeeper but otherwise unmoderated. The message archive will be available to members only.
I do not see any reason for a fee. I think we can get things started for a couple years at least with volunteers.
To get things started I have arranged for the society to sponsor two sessions at the upcoming ICMS at Kalamazoo in May 2017. There will be a roundtable on Bruce Campbell’s new book The Great Transition: Climate, Disease and Society in the Late Medieval World. This is the first book that I know of that examines the Black Death with the new genetic paradigm in the context of the entire 14th century throughout the Old World. The second will be a session of papers on “Historic Landscapes of Disease” which will continue the series I have been personally sponsoring for the last couple of years. I am looking for papers that focus on epidemiology, the ecology of disease, environmental history and disease, history or archaeology of human health and disease, and related topics.
If you are interested in joining the society or participating in the Congress next May, please contact me with the form below. Abstracts are due by September 15. I am really looking forward to gathering a truly interdisciplinary group of people who are all interested in historic diseases.