Week Four Answers

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Week #4 Epidemics Answers

May 10, 2021

1.How did infectious disease impact life along the Tigris and Euphrates? How did it impact Joseph and his associates in their work environment specifically?

In response to the first question, all participants noted quarantine as the primary impact of infectious disease along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. They pointed out that quarantines and even disease themselves seemed to be built into daily life with Joseph recording deaths and illness just like he would the weather. Disease and the quarantines impacted the length of time it took for goods and people to move in the region. Processes included fumigating the mail, docking ships to wait at quarantine stations, and dealing with Ottoman officials to conduct trade. Although not discussed in the passages suggested for reading here, in later diaries when the plague and cholera flare up in Basrah and Baghdad, frequently people would move outside of the cities and into tents to try and escape from disease. Despite disease, day to day life and travel did not stop in the region and often disease outbreaks and quarantine would coincide with increased travel from the Hajj (a religious pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina) through the region. 

2.How did you relate to or empathize with Joseph? What are some differences and similarities you saw between how Joseph reports living alongside disease and your experiences in the last year?

After the last year in the COVID-19 pandemic, many participants found that they could relate to Joseph in several ways from quarantining to simply waiting to hear the news and the death toll. Many participants empathized with Joseph for living through a pandemic and the sense of normalcy he seemed to treat quarantines with.  Some participants felt that Joseph was rather desensitized to the pandemic and didn’t seem to be stressed by the process or even the number of deaths he writes about. For some context though, outbreaks of cholera, influenza, and plague were sadly rather cyclical at the time with some years having higher death tolls than others.  While many relate to over a year of COVID, Joseph lived through multiple years of infectious disease outbreaks in his lifetime. 

Many people discussed that one of the key differences they saw was that many of the diseases such as cholera that Joseph discusses are bacterial diseases and that they spread differently than COVID-19. The other difference many participants pointed out was the difference of scale between the diseases that Joseph discusses and the COVID-19 pandemic. Some answers focused on how many of the outbreaks were more regional rather than widespread and that due to this, quarantine was used to keep the disease from spreading to new regions.

Featured Answers

  • “He wrote a lot about quarantines and lengths of quarantines, number of deaths, and in Diary 49 pages 419-420, he listed specific people. These people he seemed to know personally. As for his work, he had passengers who were doctors and who seemed to be trading work shifts. Additionally, it appears there was a lot of waiting for him and his associated.” – Frances Chu, in response to question one
  • “As seen throughout the diary entries, infectious disease caused people at this time a great burden by complicating all facets of work. This is comparable to the modern COVID-19 pandemic as the current pandemic has forced individuals to adapt to a new lifestyle where all aspects of work, travel, and life in general are vastly different than pre-pandemic. I would infer that one of the biggest differences between Joseph’s experiences and my experiences with the pandemic is the dissemination of information. In modern day society. we are better equipped to both study an outbreak and determine courses of action to handle such events. Modern day methods of communication have enabled widespread dissemination of these findings, whereas back in Joseph’s time, understanding these outbreaks was likely much less grounded in science and disseminating findings about these diseases was likely an arduous process. An ironic similarity I found was in Diary 47 on page 29, Joseph discusses the dismissing of investigative individuals for political reasons, much like the last presidential administration in the United States.” – Ryzen Benson, in response to question two