Ph.D. Candidate Department of History University of Notre Dame
2016 to 2017
Unspeakable Loss, Distempered Awakenings: North America‰Ûªs Invisible Throat Distemper Epidemic of 1735 ‰ÛÒ 1765
Fifty years ago, historians pronounced parental valuation of children‰Ûªs lives to be contingent upon particular historical contexts. Although long since discredited, this verdict continues to provide a convenient, if inaccurate, explanation for conspicuous lack of parental grief in the historical record. Consequentially, epidemics resulting in a disproportionate loss of children are dismissed as unimportant. An example is the New England Throat Distemper Epidemic. By 1739 more than 5,000 out of 200,000 settlers lay dead; 98% were children. Combining traditional research methodologies with digital humanities technology I reconstruct this catastrophic event, revealing how high mortality among children resulted in a discernible reaction among parents whose loss isolated them from supportive networks ‰ÛÒ and thus from the historical record. This dark matter in our universe of human experience accounts for a mass of emotional outpouring contemporary to the First Great Awakening, provides a medical-historical analogue to recovering subaltern ‰ÛÏlost voices,‰Û� and furnishes a new model for understanding loss.