In The Immediate Necessity of Building a Lazzaretto for a Regular Quarantine (London, 1768), Joseph Cawthorne remarked that ‘Lazarets and quarantine should, in a vast trading country, be the peculiar care of every ministry’ (p.10). Edited by Alison Bashford, Quarantine: Local & Global Histories introduces readers to the complex world of quarantine before and after Cawthorne and across the world. For centuries quarantine was employed as a form of defence against the spreading of disease. It consisted of a period of seclusion in which both humans and non-humans were detained, isolated, monitored and subjected to expurgation routines. This volume presents readers with a multiplicity of sites and measures implicated by quarantine policies in settings as diverse as the East, South and Southeast Asian regions, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific and Atlantic Worlds. While conjuring up the sheer magnitude of this phenomenon, it makes one wonder how such a composite and ramified history could largely escape scholars’ attention for so long. Quarantine is to be commended for placing this history at the centre of medical history as well as the history of migration and global history as a whole. The book originates from a 2014 conference held at Sydney’s Quarantine Station and is divided into two parts. Part 1 spans over five centuries of quarantine practice, focusing on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and explores quarantine policies and routines in a variety of settings across the globe. Part 2 considers the transformation of quarantine stations into heritage sites, and draws attention to difficult and often uncomfortable questions associated with turning spaces of suffering and incarceration into museums and tourist destinations. As a whole, the volume examines the measures that were set in place to prevent the transmission of different diseases—including plague, smallpox, influenza, yellow fever, leprosy and venereal diseases—and tackles the fears that surrounded them. These measures were usually the product of state intervention, although, as Hans Pols shows, private initiative could also be involved. Quite refreshingly, the contributors refrain from venturing into questions related to the actual efficacy of quarantine policies. Rather, they consider how such questions historically informed discussions on quarantine’s merits and demerits, and focus on exploring quarantine’s social, political, and environmental implications. Some essays highlight how grand claims about quarantine’s accomplishments were entangled with imperial expansion and control over colonial subjects. As the contributors show, quarantine stations inscribed multiple tensions: they were created to protect growth in trade but at the same time enacted forms of control that monitored, regulated and slowed down economically-driven mobility. Likewise, they were aimed at preventing the spread of disease but gathered the sick and the healthy in the same place. In some cases, quarantine policies overlapped with existing forms of social control and confinement. Jane Stevens Crawshaw, for instance, shows how in early modern Genoa maritime quarantine ‘formed part of a broader package of health policies in response to trade’ (p.17). The essays also highlight how quarantine sites participated in the creation of specific geo-political borderlands that created patterns of inclusion and exclusion, and reflected uneven power relations while sometimes informing views of nationhood and affective economies of citizenship. While investigating these complex trajectories, the volume sheds light on the tortuous paths that have historically characterised the movement of both humans and non-humans around the globe. In the introduction, Alison Bashford notes that ‘in the nineteenth century, Atlantic crossings engendered a strong conflation of quarantine and immigration processes’ (p.7). Throughout the volume, we come across cases in which quarantine measures overlapped with detention practices and restrictive immigration policies. In principle, everybody, including the privileged, was submitted to quarantine jurisdiction. However, by and large, quarantine singled out specific groups of individuals who were subjected to forms of discrimination and racialisation. For instance, as Saurabh Mishra and Hans Pols observe, pilgrims travelling on the Hajj to Mecca were regularly and enduringly subjected to special scrutiny and quarantine measures. Nayan Shah further reconstructs how Angel Island in California became the site of bacteriological examination and diagnostic techniques that, in keeping with exclusionary immigration policies, subjected residents to forms of experimentation and conjured up views of the disabled body. As indicated in the title, the volume places quarantine at the centre of complex relationships between local and global perspectives. It also considers patterns of both geographical and temporal continuity and discontinuity. On the face of it, apparatuses of confinement, surveillance and control, and even practices such as fumigation, could act as quarantine landmarks across different times and places and changing approaches to disease. However, as the essays show, as similar as they might have looked, quarantine measures and practices relied on local and specific circumstances and led to dramatically different developments; so much so that in the afterword Mark Harrison remarks that quarantine ‘has many guises’ and ‘it is difficult to determine exactly what it is’ (p.251). In fact, even the perception of risk was ‘considered differently in different countries’ (p.256). Jane Stevens Crawshaw similarly observes that quarantine was ‘neither adopted universally nor in a universal manner’ (p.17). Focusing on quarantine legislation in nineteenth-century Hong Kong, Robert Peckham further points to the ‘tension between quarantine as a universal model, applicable everywhere, and an appreciation … of the specific conditions in the colony that necessitated a local reformulation of that model’ (p.73). Thus, although quarantine sites shared some of the same raisons d’être and practices, their histories were locally rooted and resist generalization. Indeed, the sheer variety of quarantine-related contexts and situations encountered in the volume calls into question the extent to which quarantine sites could actually serve, as suggested in the introduction, as ‘constants for global and longue durée comparison’ (p.10). Alexander Chase-Levenson provides an intriguing point of entry into shifting perceptions of risk when he recalls that residents in Malta’s quarantine station could entertain themselves by reading books borrowed from the Garrison Library in Valletta. Contrary to the usual expectation of danger associated with porous materials like paper, here books could seemingly circulate in and out of quarantine walls. The actual walls and material settings of quarantine stations are the object of fascinating essays that draw attention to the inscriptions left behind by passing residents. Created in different sizes, languages and media, such inscriptions provide an extraordinary material record of individual voices that would have otherwise been lost. They offer vibrant testimony to the sufferings, frustrations, hopes, expectations and states of ‘suspension and anticipation’, as Gareth Hoskins puts it, that affectively marked residents’ experiences. Quarantine has the merit of giving them due attention. Readers will find in this rich volume a wealth of valuable materials and insights that will surely inspire others to continue to listen to these voices. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Social History of Medicine. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Social History of Medicine – Oxford University Press
Published: May 10, 2018
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