Contagion How Commerce Has Spread Disease Mark Harrison

Publication date:
24 Aug 2012
416 pages: 234 x 156 x 37mm
40 black-&-white illustrations

Disease and commerce are among the most powerful forces that have shaped the modern world. They are also closely intertwined: over many centuries trade has been the single most important factor in the spread of diseases throughout the world. In this pathbreaking book, Mark Harrison provides the first major historical study of contagious illness and commerce. Beginning with the plagues which ravaged much of Eurasia in the fourteenth century, Harrison charts both the passage of disease and measures taken to prevent it. He examines the emergence of public health in the Western world and its subsequent development elsewhere, highlighting the persistent abuse of sanitary measures for economic and political gain, revealing how quarantines and sanitary embargoes have even become weapons of war. Harrison also traces growing opposition to these practices among merchants, medical practitioners and humanitarian reformers, and examines the development of international regulations and institutions to govern public health. Drawing on a wealth of original source material from archives and libraries around the world, Harrison offers a new and horrifyingly relevant perspective on the history of humanity and the world we inhabit today.

Mark Harrison is Professor of the History of Medicine, Director of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford. He has published widely on the history of disease and medicine, especially in relation to the history of war and imperialism from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. He was awarded the 2004 Templer Medal for Medicine and Victory: British Military Medicine in the Second World War and is also the author of a companion volume on British military medicine in World War One, as well as Disease and the Modern World, 1500 to the Present Day.

"A thorough, well-researched and thoughtful tome."—David Cohen, New Scientist

"Harrison presents us with a magisterial history which is as much about the present as the past."Alison Bashford, Times Higher Education Supplement

"This is a book of impressive range of originality – the new global history at its best."Michael Worboys, BBC History Magazine