Extended Deadline CFP: “Contagious Connections: Epidemic Disease in Vast Early America and the Atlantic World.”

by Claire Gherini, re-posted from H-Atlantic 14/06/2021

The Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture invites applications from scholars across academic disciplines for participation in 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” is a series of six works-in-progress seminars that will take place, online, between January and May 2022 in which participants will convene to discuss and workshop pre-circulated papers. We invite proposals for unpublished, chapter-length pieces on epidemics in Vast Early America/The Atlantic World for those workshops. 

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 chronological 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 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.

As we hope to see this series culminate in a community of scholars who might polish their works for collective publication in an edited collection, in summer 2022, should conditions allow, we may convene in-person in Washington D.C. for one week for a second round of workshops where participants will present and receive feedback on revised versions of their papers.

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


For more information please go to: https://oieahc.wm.edu/events/contagious-connections/

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