When Germs Travel: Epidemics and Immigrants in the 20th Century
The John K. Lattimer Lecture
Howard Markel, MD, PhD
Thursday, April 21, 6:00 PM
Howard Markel, physician, educator, and award-winning medical historian, will give the final lecture in NYAM’s series "Race, Ethnicity, and Health in Twentieth-Century America." This talk will discuss the story of six epidemics that broke out during the two great waves of immigration to the United States-from 1880 through 1924, and from 1965 to the present-and show how federal legislation closed the gates to newcomers for almost forty one years out of fear that these new people would alter the social, political, economic, and even genetic face of the nation.
Markel will discuss tuberculosis today, the most serious public health threat facing the contemporary world; bubonic plague and how it came to this country in the early twentieth century; trachoma in the years before World War I; typhus fever and an epidemic on the Texas Mexico border in the aftermath of Pancho Villa’s revolution; and AIDS, the Haitian exodus, and the early years of the AIDS epidemic. Turning to the present, Markel will explain how immigration in the twenty-first century is characterized by porous borders, rapid travel, and scattered destinations. He will examine our nation’s response to the pathogens present in our midst and our foolhardy attempts at isolation and our vacillation between demanding a public health system so punitive that it worsens matters and settling for one that is too lax. Finally, Markel will propose a plan for a globally-funded public health program that could stop the spread of epidemics, help eradicate certain diseases, and protect us all.
Howard Markel, M.D., Ph.D. is the George E. Wantz Professor of the History of Medicine, Professor of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, Professor of History, Professor of Public Health, and Director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. A contributing writer for The New York Times, he frequently writes the "Cases" column for that newspaper’s Science Times section as well as reports on health care and medicine. His articles or essays have also appeared in Harper’s, The Wall Street Journal, The International Herald Tribune, The American Scholar, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Evening Sun, The Forward, Redbook, ELLE, Child, and Good Housekeeping, and have been broadcast on National Public Radio’s "Morning Edition" and "Marketplace."
This event is free and open to the public, and is sponsored in part by the New York Council for the Humanities.
"Race, Ethnicity, and Health in Twentieth-Century America" explores the contrasts in health conditions across racial and ethic lines–past and present, as well as the experience of immigrant medical professionals, and the geopolitics of race, health and empire.
Acknowledgement: We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the New York Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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