Event

Jun 23, 2022
The Plague in Yunnan: Rats and Missionaries at the End of the World

The image of dazed, plague-infected rats coming out of their nests and performing a pirouette in front of the surprised eyes of humans before dying is one well-known to us through Albert Camus’s The Plague (1942), where it appears twice. This paper examines the historical roots of this image, and its emergence in French missionary narratives about plague outbreaks in the Chinese province of Yunnan in the 1870s on the eve of the third plague pandemic. Arguing that accounts of the “staggering rat” were not meant as naturalist observations (as is generally assumed by historians) but as a cosmological narrative, I will explore the links of this image to Boccaccio’s Decameron and to Latin accounts of pestilence (Virgil and Ovid), and will argue that the “staggering rat” needs to taken ethnographically seriously, as a cosmological figure, and not be reduced to “evidence” about the origins of the third plague pandemic.

Address
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Boltzmannstraße 22, 14195 Berlin, Germany
Room
Zoom/Online Meeting Platform
Contact and Registration

For further information about the LMRG Research Workshop series, specific sessions or registration (a limited number of places are available), please contact Ching-Yang Lee (chlee@mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de).

About This Series

The LMRG Research Workshop is a venue for members and guests of the Lise Meitner Research Group, "China in the Global System of Science," to share work in progress on an ongoing basis. It is an opportunity to raise questions, discuss methodological challenges, or get feedback on preliminary conclusions. We aim to create a supportive atmosphere that combines rigorous criticism with genuine curiosity. 

2022-06-23T14:00:00SAVE IN I-CAL 2022-06-23 14:00:00 2022-06-23 15:30:00 The Plague in Yunnan: Rats and Missionaries at the End of the World The image of dazed, plague-infected rats coming out of their nests and performing a pirouette in front of the surprised eyes of humans before dying is one well-known to us through Albert Camus’s The Plague (1942), where it appears twice. This paper examines the historical roots of this image, and its emergence in French missionary narratives about plague outbreaks in the Chinese province of Yunnan in the 1870s on the eve of the third plague pandemic. Arguing that accounts of the “staggering rat” were not meant as naturalist observations (as is generally assumed by historians) but as a cosmological narrative, I will explore the links of this image to Boccaccio’s Decameron and to Latin accounts of pestilence (Virgil and Ovid), and will argue that the “staggering rat” needs to taken ethnographically seriously, as a cosmological figure, and not be reduced to “evidence” about the origins of the third plague pandemic. Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Boltzmannstraße 22, 14195 Berlin, Germany Zoom/Online Meeting Platform Anna Lisa Ahlers Anna Lisa Ahlers Europe/Berlin public