Contagion as process, metaphor, and timely interpretive tool, from antiquity to the twenty-first century.
Cultures of Contagion
recounts episodes in the history of contagions, from ancient times to the twenty-first century. It considers contagion not only in the medical sense but also as a process, a metaphor, and an interpretive model–as a term that describes not only the transmission of a virus but also the propagation of a phenomenon. The authors describe a wide range of social, cultural, political, and anthropological instances through the prism of contagion–from anti-Semitism to migration, from the nuclear contamination of the planet to the violence of Mao’s Red Guard.
The book proceeds glossary style, with a series of short texts arranged alphabetically, beginning with an entry on aluminum and environmental contagion and ending with a discussion of writing and textual resemblance caused by influence, imitation, borrowing, and plagiarism. The authors–leading scholars associated with the Center for Historical Research (CRH, Centre de recherches historiques), Paris–consider such topics as the connection between contagion and suggestion, waltzmania in post-Terror Paris, the effect of reading on sensitive imaginations, and the contagiousness of yawning. They take two distinct approaches: either examining contagion and what it signified contemporaneously, or deploying contagion as an interpretive tool. Both perspectives illuminate unexpected connections, unnoticed configurations, and invisible interactions.