CfP: Quarantine Research Network
Global and transdisciplinary perspectives on sanitary cordons throughout history
2nd International Conference of the Quarantine Studies Network
7-8 November 2018
Hosted by the University of the Balearic Islands, Palma de Mallorca
Sanitary cordons to regulate and control the spread of bubonic plague were developed in Italy in the 14th century in parallel with maritime quarantine (mainly lazarettos) and came to be quickly imposed by other Mediterranean/European
Today, various types of cordons are still being used ‘to control the
spread of epizootics and to mitigate the impact of both
newly emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases upon the human
population’ (Cliff, 2009) with the 21st-century
pandemics of Ebola or avian flu showing their continued utility. At
this juncture one finds a stunning paradox: despite their functions as
instruments of isolation/separation, sanitary cordons came to be highly
appreciated, legitimized and defended by state
authorities and frequently by the populations themselves. By the 1800s,
they had already been accepted and utilized in most countries of the
The success of sanitary cordons was also measured by their widespread adoption across various social and cultural domains. Thus, sanitary cordons became inseparable from military and political demarcations of territorial borders especially, but by no means exclusively, at the state level. Well-known cases include the cordon set-up against the plague in the Austrian-Ottoman border as from 1770; the so called ‘yellow fever cordon’ set up in the Catalan sector of the French-Spanish border in 1822; and the one established against cholera on the Ottoman-Persian frontier during the 1850s. The concept of the ‘common good’ via the preservation of public health was also used as an argument to legitimize, consolidate and militarize borders through the setting up of cordons. On the other hand, as sanitary cordons were set up to separate healthy sectors of a community – or indeed whole populations – from others considered sick, they were directly involved in processes of nation-building, international conflict or colonial domination. Sanitary cordons helped to define and ‘protect’ national identities and, at the same time, ‘isolate’ and control various provincial, national and colonial ‘others’. This was legitimized through old and new medical theories, scientific discourse or just pure prejudice or a combination of all these.
Sanitary cordons were also successfully ‘translated’ into the fields of politics and diplomacy, where the concept has been employed metaphorically to refer to attempts to prevent the spread of an ideology or another deemed dangerous to the international or the social order. For example, in 1917, the French minister of Foreign Affairs employed such a term to designate the new states (Finland, the Baltic republics, Poland and Romania) established along the Western border of the USSR (as buffer states) against the spread of the Bolshevist revolution into Central and Western Europe. Besides geography, politics and diplomacy, personal narratives of sanitary cordons became a sort of subgenre in modern literature, where they have also been used as metaphors to deal with issues of social control, identity/alterity or dystopic futures.
- Origins and development of sanitary cordons for the prevention of epidemics throughout history to the present: concepts, practices, regulations, global expansion, unknown or understudied historical cases throughout the world.
- Patterns of sanitary cordons throughout history and in different regions/countries of the world.
- Sanitary cordons as border sites of negotiation and/or resistance.
- Pre-modern and non-European forms of isolation/separation of diseased groups or communities from the rest in all their diversity (and cultural specificities).
- Literary narratives recounting eye-witness accounts/experience of cordons or employing the metaphor ‘sanitary cordons’ on issues of identity and otherness, liminality, movement/migration, global inequality, and so on.
- Memorialization: sanitary cordons in the collective imaginaries, shared memories, material culture/heritage sites, lieux de mémoire.
- Sanitary cordons and the construction, and expansion, of early-modern/modern borders of states, provinces or any other territorial demarcations.
- Place of non-human creatures and organisms (animals, plants, substances) within cordons.
- Juridical, ethical, humanitarian and religious issues raised by the use of cordons in public health, war, political struggle, migration control, and human rights.
- Sanitary cordons and science: particularly the connections between contagionism and hygiene, as well as the part played by novel advances in medicine – bacteriology.
- Relations with power: effective sanitary cordons and types of state projections of power (national sovereignty, central administrative state development, Imperial/colonial state power).
- Connections between cordons and other forms of quarantine, isolation hospitals and the public health systems. Sanitary cordons and western medicalization of society: surveillance and disciplinary processes.