Epidemics and History

Disease, Power and Imperialism
Watts, Sheldon
Date published: 
November 1999

This book is a major and wide-ranging study of the great epidemic scourges of humanity - plague, leprosy, smallpox, syphilis, cholera and yellow fever/malaria - over the last six centuries. It is also much more. Sheldon Watts, a cultural and social historian who has spent much of his career studying and teaching in the world's South, applies a wholly original perspective to the study of global disease, exploring the connections between the movement of epidemics and the manifestations of imperial power in the Americas, Asia, Africa and in European homelands. He shows how the perceptions of whom a disease targeted changed over time and effected various political and medical responses. He argues that not only did Western medicine fail to cure the diseases that its own expansion engendered, but that imperial medicine was in fact an agent and tool of empire.