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Entangled Epidemiologies: The Discourse of Disease in Victorian Britain and Late Ottoman Istanbul

A Lecture by Erik Blackthorne-O’Barr on February 16, 2021

Tuesday, 18:00 – 20:00 GMT
Tickets can be bought online from Eventbrite.
A Zoom with link will be provided to those who register

The Anglo-Turkish Society presents an online lecture by Erik Blackthorne-O’Barr.

The history of epidemics is often conceived of in a linear fashion: the spread of diseases from one place to another, or the steady march of epidemiological science from one breakthrough to the next. The endpoint of these historical narratives are usually to be found in Europe, where diseases such as plague and cholera arrived from other parts of the world, and where scientists like Snow, Pasteur and Koch discovered the means to combat them. In the midst of our current global moment, however, it is worthwhile to re-examine these linear narratives, and instead to think about how different sites around the world contribute to the emergence and development of epidemiological knowledge in more complex ways.

In this presentation, Erik Blackthorne-O’Barr aims to explore how medical discourse was produced between Ottoman Istanbul and Victorian Britain, with events and debates in one place shaping the development of epidemiology in the other. From famous figures like Florence Nightingale to more obscure Istanbul-based scientists, doctors, journalists and commentators, connections and entanglements between the British and Ottoman Empires played a major role in the shaping the contours of nineteenth-century medicine.

By focusing on four major outbreaks of cholera in Istanbul during the second half of the nineteenth century, it is possible to think about Istanbul as a crucial site of British scientific debate, at the intersection of epidemiology and orientalism. Likewise, it is possible to understand the effects of British medical discourse in the Ottoman Empire in a new light, as well as the importance of the Ottoman government in the shaping and maintenance of the new global sanitary system.

Erik Blackthorne-O’Barr is a doctoral student in the MESAAS department at Columbia University, currently focusing on Ottoman depictions of Iran and sanitary discourse during the nineteenth-century. Previously, he received an M.A. degree in Turkish Studies from Sabancı University in Istanbul, and a B.A. from the Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations department at the University of Toronto.

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