Vagabond microbes, leaky laboratories and epidemic mapping: Alexandre Yersin and the 1898 plague epidemic in Nha Trang

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Abstract

This article examines the epidemic mapping produced by the Pasteurian doctor Alexandre Yersin in the course of the outbreak of bubonic plague in the town of Nha Trang (French Indochina, 1898). Examining how Yersin responded to and reasoned about the outbreak as this unfolded around his laboratory, the article argues for a situated, processual approach of epidemic mapping. Considering four maps produced by Yersin during the outbreak, it is argued that these should not be simply seen as visual objects aimed at establishing and systematising epidemiological knowledge. Instead the changes evinced in and between these maps were driven by Yersin’s desire to distance plague from his laboratory, which stood accused as the origin of the epidemic. It is thus argued that, in this case, epidemic mapping acquires a distancing function, with its aim being to symbolically banish the source of the outbreak back to China.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-213
Number of pages24
JournalSocial History of Medicine
Volume34
Issue number1
Early online date16 Jul 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

Keywords

  • Plague
  • Cartography
  • Colonial
  • Indochina

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