Plague time: balance between social order and restrictive policies

This scientific paper aims at highlighting the importance of accurate and calculated social and political measures which were beneficial at curbing the spread of the Plague Epidemics during the 17th and 18th centuries on the Ionian islands. The emphasis is on the lack of scientific knowledge regarding the epidemic. In spite of this, the authorities were able to curb the plague to the point where it was almost non-existent.

The islands affected by the plague epidemic

One policy that I would like to highlight is that the Venetian authorities did not intervene in the responsibility and actions of the local health inspectors. They understood that intervention could potentially cause unrest in the society and hence allowed the local doctors/health inspectors to work with the people how they deem fit. This seems starkly different from the way the plague was dealt by authorities in London where houses were placed under surveillance and families tried to escape the constraints placed by authorities leading to unrest in the society.

There also exist similarities between the two periods. Defoe has praised government officials for taking correct measures. Similarly, the Venetian authorities took effective measures ensuring who was arriving at the islands by a thorough interrogation of sailors entering the Venetian ports.

It is a rather difficult task to balance the society’s decorum while enforcing policies which are much needed for restraining the spread of a life-threatening disease. As the convener’s post asks us: How harshly should we criticize the government in moments of natural disaster?

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  1. Here’s the part of that essay that really caught my eye: “Prevention was based on widespread use of an information network of daily reports of Venetian consuls in Mediterranean areas to Venetian authorities, detailed interrogation of sailors who arrived in Venetian ports, effective control of all local movements in plague-infested areas, and activation of the cordoni di sanità. Additionally, when plague occurred, residents were separated by health authorities into groups of healthy and sick persons regardless of social hierarchies. Persons affected by plague were kept in lazarettos, and large numbers of infected persons were kept in hospitals, houses, or neighborhoods on the assumption that plague in these persons remained isolated. Isolation was ensured by military force. Thus, plague-stricken areas resembled a large institution under constant inspection and surveillance and disconnected from the rest of society.”

    I’m curious about this claim for the efficacy of an information network, since it cuts against the grain of just about every plague description I’ve ever read, where communication breaks down instead. Can we think about information networks in Defoe in comparable ways? I also thought the reference to surveillance was interesting relative to the conveners’ invocation of Foucault.

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