14th Century woes: The Black Death

I’ve recently come across the interesting ways in which infectious disease has played a part in the way geographic regions and peoples change in their language customs. In the 14th century, during one of the multiple outbreaks of the Black Death, so many french tutors died that children in Britain began to be educated in their native language, thus helping its spread.

french-eng copy

Translation: You’re S.O.L. kids, Girard is out, Cobb is in.

source: A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Tuchman

Mortality and Morbidity in Human History: Cholera

Cholera probably originated in South Asia and made a home in the Ganges and the Yangtze Rivers. In Bengal, there’s actually a goddess of cholera. It didn’t make it into the west until 1817, most likely through armies first and then pilgrims filled in the gaps.

The first couple great pandemics were spread by British armies traveling between India, Persia and England and killed hundreds of thousands. Soldiers reportedly died as they marched, having only caught the disease that morning.

19th century cholera ward

Cholera was brought to America in 1831. It went from Canada to New York State with the first documented case cited in June 26, 1832. American business being what is has always been, proved to be a vocal opposition to closing down public places because of the effect it would have on commerce. This tactic had been used to good effect elsewhere.

It was an Italian scientist, Filippo Pacini, that discovered the bug first sometime between 1854-63. Robert Koch rediscovered it in 1883 and got credit for it for decades. Not until the 1960’s was Pacini honored as the first to make the discovery when the bacteria that causes the disease was officially named Vibrio cholera Pacini.


Cholera victims present with profuse diarrhea which has a characteristic “rice water” appearance. This quickly leads to dehydration. If not properly supported, the victim then experiences a drop in blood pressure as the body’s fluid levels decrease. This can cause collapse and renal failure as the kidneys fail to receive adequate perfusion.

Cholera is spread via contaminated water so it tends to not be a danger in developed nations. There are currently two cholera vaccines though neither are available in the U.S.. Sanitation and water treatment facilities are by far, the best way to prevent cholera outbreaks. In areas of the world where large numbers of people are living together without these things, outbreaks still occur. Last year, Yemen experienced an outbreak and currently, Kenya is experiencing one in the Daadab complex, which houses around 350,000 displaced people.


source: Plagues & Poxes: the Impact of Human History on epidemic disease


Domestic workers’ bill of rights

Oregon signed this bill into law June 17, 2015 but it took effect just this year.  According to this law, a domestic worker is generally anyone works in someone’s home to maintain it. Some key provisions:

Hardcore women's work
Hardcore women’s work
  • Household workers are given 24 hours in a row off. A whole stinking day because of course they don’t get a weekend. And if they do have to work at all on their one day off, they get overtime.
  • Workers who worked on average 30 hours per week get three paid days off. Three. Three days. That’s labor day weekend. Insane.
  • Live-in household workers get overtime starting at 44 hours and they must be given 8 consecutive hours off and “adequate sleeping arrangements.” What did they get before, a crate?
  • It grants workers protection under sexual harassment and discrimination laws. How was this not automatic?

I guess what I didn’t realize is despite the amount these household workers prop up their bourgeoisie masters, I mean, employers, they really are not regarded as legit workers. Props to Oregon for taking that step. Who’s next?

Anti-tuberculosis Propaganda


I watched a documentary just now called “The Forgotten Plague.” It’s about TB in America. Once public health officials caught on to its contagious nature, they launched a massive campaign to educate people on the importance minimizing transmission. According to the documentary, men were even moved to trim or shave their beards lest they bring TB home in their facial hair.

I saw this slogan on a flyer with a baby on it and suddenly this watercolor that has been sitting around for a year made sense.

Mortality and Morbidity in human history: Smallpox

U.S. Smallpox Epidemic of 1901-1903


There were a series of outbreaks in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and in Ohio and New  Jersey. It was introduced into New York in 1900 and by 1901, there were over 900 reported cases in Manhattan while Brooklyn had over 1,500 with over 200 deaths.

By 1902, the city opened five vaccination centers and vaccinated tens of thousands a day. Over a six month period, over 800,000 people had been vaccinated which greatly helped control the spread.

In the three years of the epidemic, there were 21,000 cases of smallpox and over 3,500 deaths.


from Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence: from Ancient Times to the Present.