‘Asiatic cholera’, which arrived in Europe in the early nineteenth century, was widely seen as Asia’s revenge on Europe for the extension of European empires in the East. During the nineteenth century governments reacted first by trying to establish quarantines, then when these did not work, the ‘miasmatic’ theory of disease communication became dominant. Some have argued this won favour because it furthered the interests of free trade and conformed to the beliefs of liberalism. Later in the century, with the discovery of the cholera bacillus, more effective preventive measures were introduced. Cholera was spread by armies (Crimean War) and trade. It hit the urban poor hardest, and epidemics often produced popular protest, with medical officials in Russia being lynched during the epidemic of 1892. Later outbreaks have almost always been associated with the breakdown of the state through civil war (Peru) or natural disaster (Haiti).

The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:

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