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News and Announcements: Calls for Papers

Call for Submissions: Managing Pandemics in Early Modern Germany

Thursday, September 10, 2020  
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The advent of plague in Europe in 1348 was a cataclysmic event that caught most cities and territories off guard as a pandemic of this magnitude had not occurred in Europe since the Plague of Justinian in late Antiquity. The opening pages of Boccaccio’s Decameron painted chaotic scenes of Florence after the arrival of plague. North of the Alps, panic and fear lead to numerous pogroms directed against Jews as well as to processions of flagellants. By the early fifteenth century, the plague had become a disease that recurred periodically, sometimes after only ten to twelve years.

In the 1490s, a new illness, the French disease or syphilis, spread throughout Europe. Furthermore, older diseases, like cholera, smallpox, typhoid, and leprosy, were circulating in early modern Europe as well. As a result, the plague and its effects as a recurring disease had to be reassessed, and communities gradually learned ways to protect themselves. Cities and territories, first in Italy but soon north of the Alps as well, began to develop strategies to contain waves of plague and to prevent future outbreaks. The invention of the printing press around 1450 led to a proliferation of plague texts that were mostly written by physicians and theologians. Many of them were sponsored or at least supported by communal governments, and some were widely disseminated in their cities as semi-official documents.

The publication of a collection of essays is planned to examine efforts and strategies by German cities, territorial states, and individual writers to manage pandemics in the Early Modern period and to deal with ethical, theological, and social issues that arose for individuals. The main emphasis is on the period between 1450 and 1700, that is the time when measures on responding to periodic outbreaks of plague were discussed most intensely. This volume seeks to approach the topic from various disciplinary perspectives, and interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches are welcome.

Essays are welcome that focus on any of these questions:

  • How did the etiology and epidemiology of plague (and of other illnesses) evolve, and what are the implications for their management, both in terms of prevention and treatment?
  • How did authorities prepare for and manage pandemics? How did they obtain information on outbreaks elsewhere, and what information systems existed? What bureaucratic structures, like health boards, were established, what function did they have, and what was their authority? What institutions where created—from quarantine systems to plague hospitals?
  • How did authorities manage pandemic outbreaks? What measures did they take, what ordinances did they pass, and how did they disseminate information? What was the role of health passes?
  • Were measures against contagion used to justify new social policies and to achieve greater social control, particularly of the poor? Were there breakdowns of regulatory schemes, public health systems, or public order? Conspiracy theories?
  • Was there resistance against regulations regarding pandemics and more generally against restrictions of personal liberty? What did non-compliance with public health rules look like—occupants of plague hospitals escaping, breaking of quarantines and (self)isolation? Was there opposition by clerics to restrictions on worship and processions or by merchants to restrictions of commercial activities?
  • Was it ethically justifiable to flee a city afflicted with plague, and under what circumstances? What ethical obligations did individuals have toward neighbors, servants, etc. during outbreaks?
  • As plague was seen as God’s punishment was it appropriate to fight the disease, personally, politically, and medically? Why did good people perish during plague? Was plague a test of faith? What was the role of suffering in plague, and what consolation could be offered?

Please submit abstracts of no more than 200 words by 15 October 2020 to Peter Hess, Department of Germanic Studies, University of Texas at Austin:

Submissions will be accepted in English and in German. Contributors will be informed by early November, and additional information will be provided at that point. I am currently in talks with an interested publisher. Final papers (approximately 6,000-9,000 words) will be due by March 2021.

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