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The History of Yellow Fever: An Essay on the Birth of Tropical Medicine

François Delaporte’s History of Yellow Fever is a detective story whose protagonist is an idea rather than a person. Most importantly, while tracing this fascinating story, it demonstrates the practical value of an epistemological approach to the history of science. By casting the story of the conquest of yellow fever in an entirely new light, Delaporte is also able to elucidate the political uses to which that story has been put, in both Cuba and the United States.

The mystery of yellow fever was unraveled in 1900 a momentous event that not only ensured the eradication of this scourge but pointed the way to the birth of a science of tropical medicine. But how was the mystery unraveled? There are two mutually antagonistic accounts, epitomized many years later in two nationalistic paintings: a Cuban painting showing Dr. Carlos Finlay presenting to the American Commission his theory that the Culex mosquito is the carrier of the yellow fever germ, and an American painting of Dr. Walter Reed’s experimental proof of the manner of transmission.

Delaporte shows both pictures to be false because they neglect important historical antecedents and connectives. What occurred in 1900 that is worth our attention, he observes, is not a discovery that must be credited to some national hero, but an epistemological shift, built on a foundation of much previous work and inference, that allowed scientists to conceive of the mosquito as a vector for the transmission of disease.

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Author: François Delaporte

Editor/Translator: Arthur Goldhammer

Edition: First Edition

Binding: Hardcover

Manufacturer: The MIT Press

Number of items: 1

Number of pages: 198

Product group: Book

Studio: The MIT Press

Publication Date: February 14, 1991

Publisher: The MIT Press

Pages: 198

EAN: 9780262041126

ISBN: 026204112X

ASIN: 026204112X

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Art Goldhammer
Writer, translator, scholar, blogger on French Politics, affiliate of Harvard's Center for European Studies, writes for The American Prospect, The Nation, etc.