Contagious Connections: Epidemic Disease in the Vast Early Americas

The Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture invites proposals from scholars across academic disciplines and ranks for a series of workshops dedicated to revisiting and rethinking the history and historiography of epidemics in Vast Early America and the Atlantic World. Co-chaired by Ryan Kashnanipour (University of Arizona) and Claire Gherini (Fordham University), “Contagious Connections” will build from a series of conversations with established scholars in fall 2021 to a workshop in spring 2022. We invite proposals of works in progress on epidemics in the early Americas for that workshop. 

Epidemics were a foundational force in the early history of the Americas and the larger Atlantic World. Yet their interdisciplinary and comparative analysis has often been restricted by the imperial and temporal priorities of these regions’ subfields as well as older biomedical and demographic approaches to the study of disease. Rather than rehashing whether acquired immunity destined Native Americans to extirpation and Africans for slavery in the Americas, this series proceeds from the idea that epidemics are epistemological and ontological forces: they have a historical materiality but become epidemics of a particular disease when historical actors collectively decide to name and treat them as such. We invite paper submissions from scholars of any discipline writing on any region of either Vast Early America or the Atlantic World, 1400-1830 that engage with epidemics and/or infectious diseases beyond their biological attributes. We are open to papers of many kinds, possible themes and questions might include:

  • The political and social ramifications, in particular times and places, of naming widespread infirmity an epidemic. How do such pronouncements and definitions work to mobilize resources? What populations do they render legible? Which figures and administrative bodies got to make these definitions?
  • What administrative differences between empires rendered such pronouncements and definitions easier to make and contest, as well as see in the archive?
  • How did the divergent temporalities of so-called crowd diseases’ (smallpox, yellow fever, measles for example) and those that are more chronic disorders (yaws, coco-bays, dropsy) shape official and quotidian responses to them?
  • Naming generalized infirmity an epidemic magnifies its visibility in the archive. Papers might explore the more quotidian types of infirmity that have been overlooked as a consequence and how they were managed and thought about by the communities affected by them.
  • Papers might use the uneven impact of different epidemics as a window onto the endemic nature of illness in the early modern Americas and underlying health disparities.
  • Sudden and widespread sickness tends to galvanize discovery of its modes of communication. To think about the materiality of epidemics, papers might focus on how these discoveries reconfigure mobility and daily habits of living. Or they might use authorities’ efforts to regulate or outlaw quotidian practices of bodily health or sustenance to recover what are often overlooked materials and practices that are central to gendered and racialized economies of care.
  • Papers might explore the development of new forms mourning, internment, and memorialization that communities developed to reckon with the new scale of death created by an epidemic.

We hope to see this series culminate in a community of scholars who might polish their works for collective publication. In spring 2022, between January and May, we will hold a series of workshops to discuss pre-circulated papers with select presenters, leading specialists, and scholars in the field. Papers should be chapter length (no longer than 10,000 words) drafts of works in progress. In summer 2022, should conditions allow, we may also convene for a week-long in person meeting to present revised versions of their papers for a second round of workshops.

The original deadline for submissions has been extended. Interested individuals are asked to submit an abbreviated CV no longer than three pages and an abstract no longer than 500 words by JULY 15, 2021:

APPLY HERE

For more information, please feel free to contact Ryan Kashanipour (rykash@arizona.edu) or Claire Gherini (cgherini@fordham.edu).  


The image used to advertise the workshop is an excerpt of Frontpiece to Caytano Cabrera y Quinto, Escudo de armas de Mexico (1747), and is used courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library