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The history of public health has been a flourishing field in the last three decades. Yet despite a spate of excellent monographs about various epidemic diseases and many good collections about health and disease in Africa, Asia, The Middle East, Latin America, as well as Europe and North America, the most recent textbook on the history of public health is four decades old.
In 1992, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., sponsored a special exhibition to mark 1492, the five hundredth anniversary of the Discovery of America. Reflecting the times in the 1990s, the exhibition tried to show the essential equality of all cultures around the globe at the end of the fifteenth century.
Over the past few years, no doubt as a consequence of HIV/AIDS newspapers have been full of stories about the threat from plagues some such as TB and bubonic plague appear like spectres from the past while apparently new diseases such as E-coli and the Ebola virus threaten to run riot in the future. It is against such a background that Christopher Wills has published Plagues.
Oh, East is East, and West is West,and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat
But there is neither East nor West, Border,nor Breed, nor Birth
When two strong men stand face to face,though they come from the ends of the earth.
'Geography is about maps, History about chaps': a tired cliché, of course, though it tells us something about the ways in which disciplinary boundaries were constructed during the relatively recent past. Few historians today would make such a facile claim, if only because of the absurdity of the notion that only 'chaps' make history.
It is now a decade since these volumes appeared in French and their translation into English, impeccably done, and subsidised by the French Ministry of Culture (would that such an institution existed in Britain) makes available to students and scholars a collection of thirty essays compiled by what looks like a roll call of the most distinguished French anthropologists and historians of th
Admiral Eduard Baltin, wrestling in mid-1997 with the consequences of the division of the ex-Soviet navy between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, took a moment to reflect on the creator of the imperial Russian Black Sea fleet: "a loose woman and non-Russian, Empress Catherine the Great was a greater Russian patriot than today's rulers of Russia.
''Five million barrels of porter'' (p. 140)
When confronted with the term 'Illustrated' in a book title, how many historians, I wonder, would not be tempted to inwardly scoff and mentally store the book on the coffee table of their departmental common room? This review begins with a warning against such sentiments.
Ernest Gellner, who died on 5 November 1995, was one of the great polymaths of the century. Many of his twenty books were concerned with philosophy, sociology and anthropology. Yet at the core of his work was an historical question.