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Astronomy & Astrophysics
Kenneth Bartlett

29 January 2013Blue Funk and Yellow PerilProfessor Sir Richard EvansCholera despite some argument amongst medical historians of the kind weve become used to during this lecture series is generally agreed to have been an entirely new disease in the nineteenth century at least new to Europe and the AmericasIt had been endemic to Bengal since ancient times and had been observed both by ancient Greek authors familiar with India and by European travellers But it only came to Europe as a result of the opening up of new trade routes through Afghanistan and Persia following the British conquest of North India escaping from its reservoir in Bengal in 1817 and making its way westwards initially with troop movements and then with trade It was thus to begin with very much the product of empire of Europe and particularly Britains newly achieved dominance over the rest of the world built in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by the advent of industrialization and the rapid development of military technology and naval superiority in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and afterwards In the mid1820s it was halted possibly by a military cordon sanitaire set up by the Russian authorities but trade continued to grow in the region and by 1827 cholera was in Persia again moving along the Don and Volga rivers to Russia then St Petersburg and thence to Germany in 1831 and Britain and France the following year Cholera spread to Europe because Europes strategic power was spreading across Asia Soon christened Asiatic cholera the disease was widely understood as Asias revenge a deadly invasion from the supposedly backward and uncivilized East launched just as western civilization in the eyes of many Europeans was reaching the height of its progress and achievementsOnce it had arrived in Europe cholera quickly battened on to another central aspect of Europes nineteenthcentury expansion and growth Industrialization helped move cholera rapidly from place to place first along the rivers and canals which were the main arteries of transport in the 1820s and 1830s then even more rapidly along the railway lines that began to be built across Europe from the 1840s onwards a fact rrecognized in this French cartoon from the epidemic of 1884 drawn after the discovery of the causative bacillus and portraying it as a kind of blue monster Ill come back to the colour in a moment But it also ensured the disease could be transmitted easily from person to person in the overcrowded and insanitary towns and seaports of the new industrial society passed on either through contaminated water supplies and foodstuffs or through direct human contact Cholera is spread by a bacillus which if ingested through the mouth causes extremely severe vomiting and diarrhoea with rapid and extreme dehydration agonizing stomach cramps and in effect such a drastic draining of fluid from the body that the blood as it were almost coagulates in the veins giving the skin a cocalled corrugated effect and turning the patient blue psychologically it caused extreme anxiety amounting to terror hence the expression blue funk Contemporary cartoonists attempted to convey with more or less success what it 1Page
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