Workshop organized by the
Department of History, York University
March 9-10, 2007
Concerns about disease and public health have been mounting in recent years in scholarship and in popular culture, especially in the guise of public health scares. In 2000 the Toronto Medical Board of Health estimated that 1000-1500 people per year were dying prematurely in Toronto from smog, while the average of premature deaths due to smog in other North American cities was only 700. The 2003 SARS crisis in Toronto, which totaled 140 cases and 13 deaths, and led to the World Health Organization recommending against travel to Toronto, has been dramatized in a CTV movie “Plague City.” In August 2006 Toronto hosted the World AIDS Organization’s 16th international conference that drew thousands of international researchers, politicians and activists. Despite the advances in treatment and the ongoing crisis in Africa, the biggest news was the absence of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Clearly the Canadian media and the conference attendees believed the conference warranted the attention of the hosting country’s head of state. While these recent health scares and scandals are compelling to the general public and researchers alike, they are not new, but have been affecting human societies since the beginning of time. Historians can help activists, researchers and the public understand disease in broad chronological, environmental and global perspective.
Studies of disease in the past, environmental history, and globalization have been exploding in recent years. Disease has been examined as a transformative historical process that destabilizes societies and cause major population shifts through movements and deaths. Researchers in environmental history have connected such historic scourges as the Black Death and malaria to human and natural alterations of environmental conditions. Pathogenic disease is part of the natural world and is engaged in co-evolution with human beings. In historical time human cultural changes, such as agriculture, travel, pastoralism, state-building, urbanization, and colonialism, have changed the living conditions for microorganisms and their non-human hosts and vectors. Human individuals and communities have repeatedly been exposed to new diseases and to old ones with altered attributes or newly-expanded ranges. Other disease conditions, such as Minamata disease, many cancers, and beri-beri, result from physical or chemical qualities in the environment, often caused or altered by human actions. Environmental history explores this two-way relationship of humans and nature at the smallest scale of microbes and molecules as well as the largest scale of global climatic change and human migration. Globalization has encouraged scholars to look past political and geographic boundaries to see how these historical patterns can operate on large scales.
We wish to draw these frameworks together in a two-day workshop to study the relationships among diseases, human societies, and environments by focusing on three specific areas: 1. the preconditions and consequences of epidemic and endemic disease in historical context; 2. the roles played by migration of pathogens, vectors and people; and 3. new diseases in the globalizing world. The three themes will be explored through keynote speakers, paper panels, two commentators for each theme, and general discussion. We are looking for three 20-minute presentations to accompany each of the keynote speakers and commentators. Presentations should address the theme but they need not restrict themselves to the topic, area, or time period of the keynote speaker.
The first theme, “Epidemic and Endemic Disease in Historical Context: Preconditions and Consequences,” will feature Walter Scheidel, Professor of Classics and Director of Graduate Studies at Stanford University. His research focuses on ancient social and economic history, with particular emphasis on historical demography, slavery, and agrarian history. He will speak on the endemic and epidemic disease issue, centred in the ancient world and allowing necessary consideration of mobility, imperialism, etc.
The second theme, ”On the Move: Pathogens, Vectors, and Peoples,” will feature John R. McNeill, Professor of History, Director of Graduate Studies, and Cinco Hermanos Chair of Environmental and International Affairs at Georgetown University. He will speak on his long-standing yellow fever project based in the 17th to the 20th centuries, involving human movements and the role of empires and colonialism, as well as insect vectors and the environmental conditions.
The third theme, “New Diseases in the Globalizing World,” will feature Associate Professor Mary-Ellen Kelm, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples of North America at Simon Fraser University. She will discuss globalization, racialization and the multiple discourses of HIV/AIDS in urban Aboriginal communities in Canada.
Submissions for papers to fit into any of the three themes are due November 15, 2006. Please send one-page proposals and one-page vitas to Carolyn Podruchny, History Department, York University, 2140 Vari Hall, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, ON M3J 1P3 or send them by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dept. of History, York University
Secretary / Treasurer, American Society for Ethnohistory
2140 Vari Hall, 4700 Keele St.
Toronto, Ontario Canada M3J 1P3
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