Arrival From Abroad: Plague, Quarantine, and Concepts of Contagion in Eighteenth-Century England
Date of Award
Bachelor of arts (BA)
Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences
The isolation and separation of infected individuals in response to epidemics has persevered throughout history as an effective public health measure. Since the devastation of the Black Death during the fourteenth century, major European cities continued to institute various forms of quarantine in order to address the threat of plague. Following the Great Plague of London in 1665-66 – the last major outbreak of bubonic plague to occur in England – the country had no way of knowing it would never again be visited by the disease in its epidemic form. In the eighteenth century, Parliament took measures aimed at preventing outbreaks of infection from abroad – primarily, through the institution of a rigorous maritime quarantine system. This decision ultimately came about as a result of the standard medical rhetoric of the age, that plague in its epidemic form was much easier to prevent than it was to control. Theories of contagion advanced by English physician Dr. Richard Mead (1673-1754), on which the government’s activity was largely based, were received with dissatisfied medical and communal responses. Yet quarantine, even in its contemporary form, in no way remains free of controversy. In the case of plague, effective preventative measures could not be entirely understood until the epidemiology of the disease had been fully worked out. This essay examines the impact of eighteenth century medical discourse and theories of contagion asserted specifically by Dr. Mead in shaping maritime quarantine protocol in England.
Hickey, Talei ML, "Arrival From Abroad: Plague, Quarantine, and Concepts of Contagion in Eighteenth-Century England" (2014). History Undergraduate Theses. 6.