University of Vermont

Symposium, Lecture to Focus on History and Health Crises

Hear MacArthur 'Genius' Fellow J.R. McNeill at two UVM events April 28

What are the intersections of the history of the world and the history of bodies? That’s the question at the heart of a symposium to take place Monday, April 28 at UVM: “A Thousand Ghost Maps: History in and as Health Crises.”

Drawing its name from the UVM College of Arts and Sciences First-Year Read selection for 2013-2014, The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic -- and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World, the symposium “starts from the assertion that health and disease are always situated in expansive cultural landscapes,” says event organizer Jonah Steinberg, assistant professor of anthropology, “that the life of the body must be conceptualized holistically, and that illness and its responses cannot be separated from the historical and social forces of their particular times and spaces.”

The symposium brings together at a single forum scholars of pediatric cancers and medieval history, of global health broadly construed and childhood toxic exposures, of AIDS in China and polio in Pakistan, researchers with M.D.s and Ph.D.s alike. The discussant and moderator is J.R. McNeill, a Guggenheim and MacArthur "Genius" Fellow, Toynbee Prize-winner, and University Professor at Georgetown, who has recently written on the relevance of mosquito-borne illnesses in the decline of oceanic empires. Participants include Middlebury’s Svea Closser, McGill’s Sandra Hyde, UVM’s Barry Finette, Dartmouth’s Margaret Karagas, and John Aberth.  

“A number of threads converged to give me the idea to do this,” says Steinberg, associate professor of anthropology. “After my time in India working with child runaways and after seeing the suffering of their bodies, I wanted to think hard about how they were living out the effects of grand sweeps of history and society, translated onto the most intimate level.”

Free and open to the public, the event takes place at 11 a.m. in Davis Auditorium at the Medical Education Center Pavilion.

Later that afternoon, McNeill will deliver a Burack President’s Distinguished Lecture: “How Hungry Mosquitoes Liberated the Americas, 1776-1898,” at 4 p.m. in Billings’ North Lounge and Apse.

McNeill’s books include The Atlantic Empires of France and Spain, 1700-1765 (1985); The Mountains of the Mediterranean World (1992); Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-century World (2000), co-winner of the World History Association book prize, the Forest History Society book prize, and runner-up for the BP Natural World book prize, listed by the London Times among the 10 best science books ever written (despite not being a science book) and translated into 9 languages; The Human Web: A Bird’s-eye View of World History (2003), co-authored with his father William McNeill and translated into seven languages; and most recently, Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914 (2010), which won the Beveridge Prize from the American Historical Association and was listed by the Wall Street Journal among the best books in early American history.

Receptions will follow each event.