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Personifying Plague

For more than a millennium the disease commonly called the plague has terrorized, frightened and fascinated people around the globe. The plague has always been a horrifying disease and until the advent of antibiotics in the twentieth century it had an extremely high fatality rate. Throughout its long and terrifying history the plague has been visualized differently, depending on its context and victims. This exhibit focuses on three ways the plague has been imagined in the West, based on materials from the Whipple Library collection as well as other libraries in Cambridge. The first two cases display early modern images and texts which see the plague as a civic illness, and nineteenth and twentieth century depictions of the plague as infecting “other” colonized bodies in the tropics. Finally the last case showcases some early, and more contemporary, images of the plague as a bacterium, a small but ruthless killer.

This exhibition was curated by Ranana Dine, student on the MPhil in Health, Medicine and Society 2017-18, with support from the staff of the Whipple Library. Click through for highlights from the physical display, which you can view in level one of the library.