Cherry-Picking or Consilience? Human Actors, Invisible Microbes, and (Non-)collaboration in Disease History
Although climate scientists and historians now work toward consilience of written and physical data, that happy détente has yet to be achieved in biological history. Yes, the call to resist “cherry picking those milestones in human history that are best recorded” should be heeded. But what happens when this new kind of bioarchaeology treads into territory historians consider theirs, where there are written records? Who cedes to whom?
This paper will focus not on human genetics but on the molecular histories of the pathogens that kill and maim us. I will use the example of the Second Plague Pandemic (14th-19th centuries) to assert that consilience with History, with a capital ‘H’, is urgently needed for one simple reason: because the most disruptive biological actors in epidemic circumstances are humans themselves.
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