A famously elusive term, the pandemic is more of an affective and political category than a clear epidemiological notion. This presentation explores how the notion developed during the epidemics of bubonic plague that stroke major cities and ports around the world at the turn of the century, leading to 12 million deaths. In particular, it presents the thesis of my CRASSH-based ERC-funded research project, that the way in which we perceive epidemiological events as “pandemics” today hankers back to the first photographic depiction of a global epidemiological crisis: the third plague pandemic (1894-1959). Exploring the themes and tropes of this visual paradigm, the presentation will demonstrate key elements that continue to inform the way we see infectious disease crises today.
This talk was given at the Cambridge Infectious Diseases seminar on 11 November 2015.