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The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure

Department of Geography and Faculty of History



'Plagues and Peoples Revisited' Workshop
Cambridge, 23-24 March 2020


We are sorry to announce that we have decided to postpone the workshop due to the uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak. We hope to reschedule the event at a later date. Further details will be posted here when they become available.

William McNeill's book Plagues and peoples (1975) was enormously influential in persuading historians of the importance of infectious diseases in human history. McNeill offered a radical interpretation of the consequences of globalisation, colonisation and urbanisation for the spread of micro- and macro-parasites, and emphasised the importance of host-parasite accommodation and co-evolution to historical processes of population growth and conflict.

This workshop seeks to re-evaluate McNeill's elegant models of host-pathogen interactions in the light of new developments in archaeology, evolutionary biology and historical research. It brings together archaeologists, demographers, epidemiologists, evolutionary biologists, geographers, historians and mathematicians to provide cutting-edge interdisciplinary perspectives on historical disease patterns, and to discuss new collaborative approaches to the history of infectious diseases.

The workshop also celebrates the conclusion of a major Wellcome Trust-funded project 'Migration, mortality and medicalisation: investigating the long-run epidemiological consequences of urbanisation 1600-1945'. Further information about the project is available from the project website.

The workshop is free to attend but BOOKING IS REQUIRED. Please complete a booking form to register.

Draft Programme

Monday 23rd March, Newnham College

Registration 10.00 – 10.30

Session I: 10.30 – 12.45 (with introduction)
New insights into plague dynamics

Chair: John Henderson (Birkbeck, University of London)

  • Kirsten Bos (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History) 'Genome-level analysis of pathogens from archaeological contexts'
  • Isabelle Séguy (Institut national d'études démographiques) 'Current state of knowledge regarding historical plague outbreaks'
  • Guido Alfani (Bocconi University) 'Unravelling the mysteries of seventeenth-century plagues: the contribution of micro-demographic approaches'

Buffet lunch: 12.45 – 13.30

Session II: 13.30 – 15.45
Medieval and early modern Europe

Chair: (Paul Slack, Linacre College, Oxford)

  • Jenna Dittmar (University of Cambridge) 'Beyond the Black Death: Diseases trends in medieval Cambridge'
  • Daniel Curtis & Bram van Besouw (Erasmus University) 'Death and taxes: war-driven epidemic mortality and fiscal capacity in the seventeenth-century Low Countries'
  • David Earn (McMaster University) 'Epidemiological insights from the London Bills of Mortality'
  • Romola Davenport (University of Cambridge) 'Pathogen life histories and public health interventions before the "sanitary revolution"'

Tea and refreshments: 15.45 – 16.15

Session III: 16.15 – 18.00
Flash talks and small group brainstorming (speakers tbc)

Drinks reception 18.00 – 19.00

Workshop dinner 19.00

Tuesday 24th March, Robinson College

Session IV: 9.00 – 11.00
Epidemiological transitions I

Chair: Richard Smith (University of Cambridge)

Hanna Jaadla (University of Cambridge) 'Socioeconomic inequalities in health and mortality in early nineteenth century England'

Lone Simonsen (Roskilde University) 'Basic research insights from quantitative studies of historical pandemics'

Jim Oeppen (University of Southern Denmark) 'Have antimicrobials changed the slope of adult mortality? An examination of pneumonia case fatality, 1822-2010'

Session V: 11:30 – 13:00
Epidemiological transitions II

Chair: Romola Davenport (University of Cambridge)

Paul Ewald (University of Louisville) 'Broadening McNeil's framework to include evolution and chronic disease'

Holly Swain Ewald (University of Louisville) 'The double-edged sword of health interventions'

Buffet lunch: 13:00 – 14:00

Session VI: 14:00 – 15.30
Interdisciplinary networking meeting, followed by tea and refreshments.

This workshop is generously supported by the Wellcome Trust and the British Society for Population Studies.