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Disease and the Modern World: 1500 to the Present Day

Disease and the Modern World: 1500 to the Present Day

Mark Harrison

ISBN: 978-0-745-62810-3 May 2004 Polity 280 Pages


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‘Mark Harrison's book illuminates the threats posed by infectious diseases since 1500. He places these diseases within an international perspective, and demonstrates the relationship between European expansion and changing epidemiological patterns. The book is a significant introduction to a fascinating subject.’ Gerald N. Grob, Rutgers State University

In this lively and accessible book, Mark Harrison charts the history of disease from the birth of the modern world around 1500 through to the present day. He explores how the rise of modern nation-states was closely linked to the threat posed by disease, and particularly infectious, epidemic diseases. He examines the ways in which disease and its treatment and prevention, changed over the centuries, under the impact of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and with the advent of scientific medicine.

For the first time, the author integrates the history of disease in the West with a broader analysis of the rise of the modern world, as it was transformed by commerce, slavery, and colonial rule. Disease played a vital role in this process, easing European domination in some areas, limiting it in others. Harrison goes on to show how a new environment was produced in which poverty and education rather than geography became the main factors in the distribution of disease.

Assuming no prior knowledge of the history of disease, Disease and the Modern World provides an invaluable introduction to one of the richest and most important areas of history. It will be essential reading for all undergraduates and postgraduates taking courses in the history of disease and medicine, and for anyone interested in how disease has shaped, and has been shaped by, the modern world.


Introduction - Disease and Modernity.

Chapter 1 - Disease and Medicine before 1500.

Chapter 2 - Early Modern Europe.

Chapter 3 - Disease and Social Order: The Enlightenment and its Legacy.

Chapter 4 – The World Beyond Europe.

Chapter 5 – Disease in an Age of Commerce and Industry.

Chapter 6 – The Individual and the State.

Chapter 7 – Disease, War and Modernity.

Chapter 8 – Health for All: Affluence, Poverty and Disease Since 1945.


'Harrison has done an especially nice job in his treatment of major historiographical trends and debates, sketching them in with a light touch, and offering compelling and clear examples of the impact and limitations of different approaches. For this, all of us teaching (and indeed researching) the history of medicine should be thoroughly grateful.' --Roberta Bivins, Cardiff University, British Society for the History of Science

"This thoroughly researched and thought-provoking book is an easy and enjoyable excellent introductory text on the history of disease and medicine." --Choice, February 2005

"Harrison's book is a masterful mix of narrative and historiographic analysis. his thesis about disease and the modern state, as well as the clarity of his text, will make this an accessible book even for beginner students, yet the breadth of his research and his explication of debates will make it useful to even the most advanced student and scholar." --History: Reviews of New Books, Winter 2005

"In short, this is a well-crafted and well-written synthesis that meets the goal of accessibility for undergraduate courses."
Bulletin of the History of Medicine

  • This is the first general introductory work on disease that effectively integrates the history of disease in the West and a broader analysis of the rise of the modern world.

  • Contains a wide range of the latest scholarship in an accessible and lively form.

  • Has an up-to-date glossary, explaining key terms and concepts.

  • Written by a young scholar who is highly regarded in his field.