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Epidemics, Quarantines, and Borders in the Euro-Mediterranean, as Factors in the Emergence of Modern States

This Panel seeks to investigate the importance of epidemics and the emergence of borders in the Euro-Mediterranean realm, from the early modern period to the development of modern bacteriology in the early 20th century. Since the devastations of the Black Death in mid-14th century, the limitations of both theological explanations as well as of the conceived medical wisdom of the time were evident. Early on, trade city such as Ragusa (Dubrovnik) or Pistoia, but also the duchy of Milan were willing to experiment with untested measures of containment, pioneering early measures of quarantine. Particularly trade connections between the Italian peninsula and the Levant and the Eastern Mediterranean with their lucrative access to the riches of the East appeared to be a source of lethal dangers, thus leading to different policies of containment while maintaining the possibility of ongoing economic exchange. As long as the existence of micro-pathogens (bacteria and viruses) remained unknown, and even the very nature of contagion unclear, if not even disputed, all policies remained blunt and tentative. What slowly showed to work against the forces of nature, though, were measures of quarantine, health passports, and control posts along trade routes – rendering hitherto rather theoretical concepts of borders concrete and tangible.

The panel explores the development of these political attempts to contain nature, and how they shaped the perception of borders. From the 18th century onwards, border controls and interstate collaboration allowed to reduce the threat of Bubonic plague, and the fact that Marseilles 1712 was the last major outbreak in Europe showed the success of sanitary control of trade connections in the Mediterranean, as well as of sanitary border regimes such as between the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires, or between Milan/Lombardy and the Swiss Confederation. With the advent of Cholera in the 19th century, these measures of nature-control were expanded, and remained a vital concern in an age of globalization, even more so as the development of railways and steamships made travel and migration so much easier. Within 19th century Europe, political boundaries might be less controlled, but sanitary concerns remained, and remained as lethal as ever. Only the development of bacteriology by Pasteur and Koch would set the fight against epidemics on a new, much more solid foundation. Before that, nature remained a never ending source of threats to the benefits of trade-based prosperity, with only the mechanisms of surveillance and control that the emerging modern state had as tools with the potential to contain.

The panel seeks to bring together scholars with an interest in the history of quarantine and other sanitary measures of border control, in order to gain a better understanding of how borders, a main factors in the development of the modern state, developed between epidemics control and the need for interaction between cities, regions, and states.