Why the Islamic World Is Central to the History of Plague

14 Oct 2020


Historical scholarship on the Black Death, inaugurated in the 1830s by European historians and medical authors, has since developed into one of the most prolific industries serving both the academy and the general public. That body of scholarship—an artifact of nineteenth-century Eurocentric and colonialist historiography—resulted in a virtual consensus, still in force, as to the temporospatial definition of past pandemics, as well as their causes and effects on societies that experienced them. However, this consensus draws exclusively on Europe’s experience with plague, which was exceptional in many ways and must not be taken as an example to draw broad generalizations for the rest of Afro-Eurasia or globally. In fact, recent humanistic and scientific scholarship alike has raised criticism of this outmoded yet persistent paradigm and opened up possibilities for rethinking the periodization, geographic scope, spread, transmission, and persistence of past plagues, as well as knowledge production relating to them. In my presentation I will discuss why the European plague experience can no longer serve as model for studying the history of plague globally. I will instead propose to situate the Islamic world at the center of historical inquiry (i.e., provincializing the European experience) and trace the ways in which this re-centering allows us to rethink older paradigms in plague's long history.

Nukhet Varlik, Rutgers University

Register here:https://www.mcgill.ca/ssom/registration-oct14

Event Date: 
Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - 1:00pm to 2:30pm
Sponsored By: 
McGill Social Studies of Medicine