The Global Challenge of Cholera in the Nineteenth Century: Standard Narratives and New Perspectives on Societal Responses and Medical Notions

Stephen Pow

Award: 2021 Post-Doctoral Fellow

This project brings together trends in public health, environmental, and Asian history while strengthening new methodological insights and approaches. Cholera pandemics triggered worldwide panic in the nineteenth century. Based on historical research, the project highlights how globalization trends brought new challenges in containing cholera. Military campaigns, mass migrations, pilgrimages, and urbanization extended the pathogen’s range and devastation. Environmental disasters likewise contributed to nineteenth-century outbreaks. It also offers novel reappraisals of long-held assumptions on cholera’s history by highlighting recorded statements and policies in Europe, Persia, etc. that demonstrate some physicians believed water had a role in the transmission of cholera before John Snow’s seminal publication (1854) based on the Broad Street Pump episode. The concept that cholera was a “new” disease of the nineteenth century will also be re-evaluated by analyzing purported accounts of cholera-like diseases and their treatments in the centuries before the First Cholera Pandemic began in 1817.