Sumit Guha, "Society and Information in Writing the History of Disease" (History and Philosophy of Science talks)

We will discuss Professor Sumit Guha's recently published article, "India in the Pandemic Age" (Indian Economic Review, 2020):



COVID-19 is only the latest in a series of global pandemics that began when the world of disease was united by the establishment of intensive connections by sea after 1500. India was a major participant in this process. A pandemic has both direct and indirect effects. Human reactions to mass illness both mitigate and enhance these effects. The networks of transmission are paralleled by networks of private and public information. But aggregated information only becomes available as governmental information systems take shape. This article explains the use of quarantine as emerging from both. It then explains why it was introduced to India only after 1800. It then looks at three great pandemics: cholera, bubonic plague and lethal influenza and governmental and societal responses to each of these. The article analyses the subsidence of pandemics into chronic presences (‘background’) that nonetheless contributed significantly ill-health, poverty and early death for hundreds of millions. But there is a paradox after Independence. Successful state action in independent India was nevertheless accompanied by the effective collapse of government information systems. This contributed to the massive economic damage from what should have been a minor episode of plague in 1994. The article thus reviews what we know about the effects of the pandemic, epidemic and chronic background phenomena on the economic life of Indian sub-continent through the past 500 years.


This event is part of the History and Philosophy of Science weekly talk series, which will be held virtually during Fall 2020.

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Friday, October 16, 2020 at 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Virtual Event
Event Type

Academics, Arts & Humanities, Science & Tech


College of Liberal Arts

Target Audience

Students, Staff, Faculty, General Public


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