Social Impacts of Infectious Disease in England 1600 to 1900

Author: Loether, Herman
A report of a sociological, social-history study of the effects of threats of infectious diseases on the everyday behavior of members of a society. Episodes of a variety of infectious diseases, including bubonic plague, cholera, smallpox, and typhoid fever were identified over the time period studied to determine their impacts. Disruptions and alterations were identified as either temporary or permanent in nature.


“This manuscript reports the results of an ambitious and exhaustive examination of specific historical data to test the adequacy of Threat Theory in explaining identifiable changes in social behavior in response to the experience of epidemic and endemic disease in England over a period of three centuries. The author demonstrates an impressive understanding of disease etiology, transmission and treatment, epidemiology, as well as social history in this study. He uses sophisticated and creative statistical analyses to test several well-defined and focused hypotheses relying on both quantitative and qualitative data. The study provides an exceptional synopsis of the specific sociopolitical history of England as well as a remarkable overview of European medical history from 1600-1900. Further, while most available historical records represent the experience of the affluent members of society, the author successfully attempts the very difficult task of documenting the mostly unrecorded experience of common people. . . This exhaustive study represents truly remarkable statistical sophistication and the application of scientific rigor and intellectual integrity in examining the history of the social impacts of infectious disease in England.” – Teri Hall

“Never have I read a more skillful example of the use of historical data, both qualitative and quantitative. . . . In this monograph, variations in health-related knowledge related to morbidity and mortality and changes in behavioral patterns resulting from the threat of infectious disease are systematically examined. . . . an outstanding example of how one might use secondary data to address an empirically-based study. Since there are few good examples of studies using historical data in sociology, this book might serve as an example for those who teach research methodology. It is a detailed, comprehensive ‘textbook’ example of how research is done. Similarly, demographers desiring a solid example of historical demography will find this book useful. Finally, public health scholars should pay particular attention to this monograph since it deals with a variety of old and new diseases that appear in epidemic proportions in ‘third-world’ countries. “ – J. Sherwood Williams

Table of Contents

Table of Contents (main headings)
1. Introduction: Importance of Health (Individual Effects; Collective Effects; Epidemics Vs. Endemics); Ecology of Disease; Theoretical Perspectives
2. Methods of Study
3. Historical Overview: Legacy of Elizabeth I; Stuart Succession; Commonwealth and Protectorate; Restoration; Hanovarian Succession; Victorian
4. Lifestyles of the Common People: Village Life; Town Life; Sources of Social Change
5. Patterns of Morbidity and Mortality: Crisis Years (London/England 17th to 19th Century); Incidence Patterns of Causes of Death (London/England): plague; smallpox; typhus; typhoid; influenza; cholera; syphilis; dysentery; diarrhea; tuberculosis; fever; gripping-in-the-guts; measles; ague; scarlet fever; whooping cough; diphtheria; convulsions
6. Effects of the Antecedent Variables on Morbidity and Mortality Rates: Medical Knowledge; Nutrition (Famine Year Analysis, Categorization of Causes; Chronological Differences; Real-Wage Rate Analysis); Personal Hygiene; Sanitation
7. Temporary Social Impacts of Mortality and Morbidity: Social Impacts of Plague; Temporary Impacts of Other Causes of Death; Impacts on Marriage and Birth Rates
8. Lasting Social Impacts of Morbidity and Mortality (cholera, typhus; tuberculosis, impacts on families)
9. Summary and Conclusions
Appendix A: supplementary Tables; Bibliography; Index