Monthly Archives: October 2016

Seminar 1: ‘Immunocapital: yellow fever, citizenship, and power in New Orleans, 1803 to 1860’.

‘Immunocapital: yellow fever, citizenship, and power in New Orleans, 1803 to 1860’.

This first HSMT seminar of Michaelmas Term will take place at 16.00 on Monday 10th October (Week 1) at 47 Banbury Road, and will be delivered by Kathryn Olivarius.

Olivarius studies the impact of the environment on the development of American slavery in the Deep South after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. In particular, she studies the determinative aspects of two highly lethal diseases—malaria and yellow fever—and how they influenced slave labour systems, pro-slavery ideology, and regional identity. Though not unknown in other parts of the United States, yellow fever visited the Deep South at epidemic levels every two or three years, sometimes killing off as much as ten per cent of the white populations of New Orleans, Mobile, and Natchez. The fear of death cast a long shadow: thousands fled cities in panic, grinding commerce, government, and social life to a complete halt during the autumn. Until white Orleanians could prove that they had survived yellow fever, they struggled to find steady, well-paid employment, safe housing, and a political voice. Once they passed the yellow fever threshold and leveraged their “immunocapital,” whites could access higher echelons of political, social, and economic power within cotton and slave capitalism. For black people—widely held to be naturally resistant to yellow fever—immunity was not a springboard to citizenship or social mobility. Rather, it became the chief justification for why black people should remain permanent enslaved labourers.

In the Unit Library, we have a number of resources to support wider reading around the topics the seminar will examine. For an overview of the history and epidemiology of yellow fever, François Delaporte’s The History of Yellow Fever (RC210 DEL 1991) and George K. Strode’s Yellow Fever (RC210 DEL 1991) are a good place to start.











A number of titles focus on a specific area affected by particular epidemics. Yellow Fever in the North : the Methods of Early Epidemiology (RA649 COL 1987) by William Coleman looks at three small but controversial yellow fever outbreaks in Gibraltar (1828), St. Nazaire (1861) and Swansea (1865). Ashbel Smith provides us with a contemporary account of a city which suffered with the disease in Yellow fever in Galveston, Republic of Texas, 1839 : an account of the great epidemic (RC211.T42 G37 SMI 1951). The symptoms and visible signs of yellow fever are described in great detail – “The eyes are bloodshotten, and have a peculiar shining, drunken appearance – the face is flushed and bloated – the skin hot and generally dry, sometimes moist and warm” – alongside stories of men who survived the experience.











Sir Rubert W. Boyce’s Yellow fever prophylaxis in New Orleans, 1905 is another contemporary text which tells of a later yellow fever epidemic in the city that Kathryn Olivarius will be focusing on in her seminar, and the publication includes many interesting and illustrative maps and photographs.

yellow-fever-prophylaxis-2 yellow-fever-prophylaxis



Finally, José Amador’s study of colonial medicine and medicine-and-nation-buildingrace relations ties well into Kathryn’s focus on racial identity and segregation, and includes a discussion on Cuban reformers invoked the yellow fever campaign to exclude nonwhite immigrants. Medicine and nation building in the Americas, 1890-1940 is found at R464.5 AMA 2015.

Please come and ask library staff if you would like any help with locating resources, or conducting further research.



Michaelmas Term 2016 Seminar Series

The following seminars will be held on Mondays at 4pm. Please note, after the first seminar at 47 Banbury Road, the remaining seminars will take place in the Lecture Theatre of the History Faculty on George Street.

Coffee will be available from 3.45pm.

All are welcome

‘Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology’

Week 1: 10 October
Kathryn Olivarius, University of Oxford
‘Immunocapital: yellow fever, citizenship, and power in New Orleans,
1803 to 1860’

Week 2: 17 October
Anne Hanley, University of Oxford
‘Sex, health and state-supported treatment for venereal diseases in
England, 1918–39’

Week 3: 24 October
Kelly-Ann Couzens, University of Western Australia
‘“Upon my word, I do not see the use of having medical evidence
here”: medical expertise, professional authority and homicide in
nineteenth-century Edinburgh’

Week 4: 31 October
Cesar Giraldo Herrera, University of Oxford
‘The myth of the spotted sun and the blemished moon: a biosocial
ethnohistory of syphilis and related diseases’

Week 5: 7 November
Margaret Jones, University of York
‘Traditional medicine and primary health care in Sri Lanka: policy,
perceptions, and practice’

Week 6: 14 November
Kathleen Vongsathorn, University of Warwick
‘“A midwife should be welcoming”: personality, midwives, and shifting
perceptions of healthcare in Uganda, 1918-1979’

Week 7: 21 November
Clare Chandler, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
‘Antibiotics as infrastructure: rehearsing a counterfactual of

Week 8: 28 November
Emma Sutton, Queen Mary University of London
‘William James and “the laws of health” in nineteenth-century

Conveners: Professor Mark Harrison, Professor Rob Iliffe, Dr Sloan Mahone, Dr Erica Charters, Dr Claas Kirchhelle

Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford
Details of all Wellcome Unit events can be found at: