Plague and Rats: Historical Transformations in Understanding a Zoonotic Disease. Lecture, 18 January 2023
Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales (CCHS). Calle Albasanz, 26. Madrid
January 18, 2023
15.00 – 16.00 CEST
Everyone knows that rats are hosts of bubonic plague. Buthow did this knowledge emerge and develop? Contrary to what is generally imagined, rats were not associated with plague in scientific works befare the mid-nineteenth century. And yet the association did not emerge, as we may expect, from the bacteriological revolution, but predates it. In this talk I propose a new history of “how plague got rats” or how the disease carne to be understood as a zoonosis spread by rats and their fleas; one that relies not on scientific “discovery” but on modes of relating plague and rats in complex and often incommensurable ways in the course of the third plague pandemic which, spreading to all inhabited continents by 1900, caused more then twelve miIlion deaths. Whereas the established story is one of identification, this is one of relating; a story that explores the social, political and epistemic lives of the rat’s relation to plague, as catastrophic symbol, epidemic villain and epidemiological connector.