The Database

The ERC-funded research project ‘Visual Representations of the Third Plague Pandemic’ is working to collect images relating to the Third Plague Pandemic, 1855 – 1959, with the intention of publishing them in a free to access online repository.

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These images being collected are contained in a database, which will be launched at the end of the project in 2018. Housed at the institutional digital repository of Cambridge University Library, DSpace, the database will be a fully catalogued, open access archive.

The project collects together photographs and other visual documents of the third plague pandemic, which broke out in 1855 in Southwest China (Yunnan) and raged across the globe until 1959, causing the death of approximately 12 million people. As Yersinia pestis spread from country to country and from continent to continent, it left behind it not only a trail of death and terror, but also a growing visual archive on the first global pandemic to be captured by the photographic lens.

Rather however than forming a homogeneous or linear visual narrative, these photographic documents provided diverging perspectives on the pandemic, which, more often than not, were not simply different from region to region, but in fact conflicting within any single locus of infection. This project’s hypothesis is that the disease’s visual representation played a pivotal role in the formation of both scientific understandings and public perception of infectious disease epidemics in the modern era.

At the time of writing, we have amassed more than 10,000 images and maps from collections and libraries around the world. You can find a selection of the images on this blog, in our Image of the Month series.


Queries about the database should be sent to plague@crassh.cam.ac.uk