Acts of God? Causation and Agency in Disease History

Author(s): Sarah Inskip; John Robb

Year: 2018


Epidemics are often understood both by historians and by ancient people as "acts of God" which structure human lives but originate outside systemic causation, and are simply caused by the advent of pathogens. But no simple model of unidirectional causation, whether by natural agents or humans, really does justice to the situation. Disease responds to social and biological environments (for instance, settlement distributions affecting contagion, and poverty and malnutrition compromising the immune system), and it has complex effects on society. The result is a model of causation in which agency resides in systemic relations rather than single entities. This argument is illustrated by considering the Black Death in Britain (1348-50) and other diseases affecting medieval English people.

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Acts of God? Causation and Agency in Disease History. Sarah Inskip, John Robb. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 444449)

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min long: -13.711; min lat: 35.747 ; max long: 8.965; max lat: 59.086 ;

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Abstract Id(s): 19906