Puritan Immunology

Cristobal Silva

in Miraculous Plagues

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780199743476
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199896868 | DOI:
Puritan Immunology

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This chapter examines the effects of epidemics on Early American bodies during the middle third of the seventeenth century. It argues that demographic changes in New England led to increasingly virulent and cyclical epidemics that would have been unfamiliar to first-generation settlers arriving from England. Narratives seeking to understand these epidemics led to the parallel development of the halfway covenant and the New England jeremiad, and signal what we might call a biological evolution of citizenship in New England, where shared immunological responses to illness set the ideological boundaries for community—or what Priscilla Wald has referred to as “imagined immunities.” Finally, this chapter offers a method of reading epidemics—an immunological syntax—where spatial and temporal frameworks replace traditional thematic readings of disease in relation to individual and communal bodies. This chapter is at the theoretical center of the book: it looks back at the first two chapters in order to contextualize their historical and ideological concerns, and prefigures the last chapter by pointing to the correlation between epidemiology and narrative form.

Keywords: John Winthrop; Michael Wigglesworth; God’s Controversy with New England; herd immunity; halfway covenant; New England Jeremiad; baptism; smallpox; genetics of salvation; Robert Child

Chapter.  18047 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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