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Feverish Bodies, Enlightened MindsScience and the Yellow Fever Controversy in the Early American Republic$
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Thomas Apel

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780804797405

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804797405.001.0001

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“Declare the Past”

“Declare the Past”

(p.35) Two “Declare the Past”
Feverish Bodies, Enlightened Minds

Thomas A. Apel

Stanford University Press

Chapter Two considers the investigators’ uses of history to determine the cause of yellow fever. A vast repository of facts about disease, history appealed to the investigators' desire to place disease inquiry on a firm empirical footing. The historical turn culminated in two massive works on the history of disease published almost simultaneously in 1799: the Treatise on the Plague and Yellow Fever by the contagionist James Tytler, and the Brief History of Epidemic and Pestilential Diseases by the localist Noah Webster.  Whereas Tytler's work was roundly rejected by investigators, Webster's Brief History cogently situated the yellow fever epidemics in the sweep of history. But the localist victory was a Pyrrhic one. The appeal to the past exposed problems that undermined investigators' hopes that history could serve as an empirical basis of disease inquiry and it forced early republicans to reckon with their precarious places in the cycles of time.

Keywords:   Noah Webster, historiography, American exceptionalism, cyclical time, linear time, history of disease, infinite regress

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