Perspectives on The History of Disease

Authored by: Mark Jackson

The Routledge History of Disease

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415720014
eBook ISBN: 9781315543420
Adobe ISBN: 9781134857876

10.4324/9781315543420.ch1

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Abstract

There is arguably no more important object of historical enquiry than the fluctuating manifestations and meanings of disease. Agents of pain, distress and death throughout the history of the world, diseases have not only reflected the customs, behaviours and lifestyles of populations, but have also in turn impacted on the lives and fortunes of individuals, families, communities, and nations. On the one hand, patterns and experiences of disease have been shaped by the demands of trade, by the import, export and consumption of commodities, by the transport of animals and the migration of peoples, and by the effects of warfare, work and living conditions. 1 Such links between disease and circumstance betray the impact of hunger, poverty, overcrowding, and sometimes leisure and luxury, on health and happiness. On the other hand, the symptoms and consequences of disease have in turn dictated personal and collective destinies, determining the outcome of conflicts, the inheritance of thrones and family estates, and the capacity to impose or resist values, norms and judgements. The designation of certain physical and emotional states as diseases has been used to marginalise, disenfranchise and subordinate sections of the population, to liberate or legitimate particular classes and professions, and to create and protect identities, agency and power.

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