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Yellow Fever Years

An Epidemiology of Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture


Ingrid Gessner

Exploring the nexus of American Studies and the Medical Humanities, this book examines the interdisciplinary interfaces between disease and American cultures and literatures. It traces the appropriation of yellow fever to legitimize the young nation and its embeddedness in discourses of race and gender from the late 18th until the end of the 19th century. Previously untapped textual and visual archives provide a heterogeneous base of canonical as well as previously disregarded works that are analyzed for yellow fever’s metaphorical and actual potential of risk and crisis. As a literary history of yellow fever epidemics, it firmly establishes the ideological, socio-political, visual, and cultural processing of the disease, which figures as invasive, inexplicable Other.

Yellow Fever Years has received the Peter Lang Nachwuchspreis 2015.

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The beginning of my first academic probings into the combination of matters medical, historical, and literary can be dated to the fall of 2005. However, my ideas, it seems, had to be stimulated, like a dormant virus if you will. My play with metaphors ends here since the ‘virus’ which had been planted was positively stimulating and not at all destructive. My general interest and original questions were further influenced by the works on literature, medicine, and biomedical discourses by Carmen Birkle in Marburg and Rüdiger Kunow in Potsdam.1 Their work has been instrumental in the development of my project. It is an honor that both of them have seen the project evolve over the years and have continuously offered their generous advice.

I am greatly indebted to Udo Hebel, whose continuous support and belief in this project, paired with generous professional and knowledgeable advice, made this book possible. I am also most grateful to Volker Depkat and Christoph Meinel for serving as mentors and for expertly supervising the Habilitation process. I thank Volker Depkat for his pertinent and continuous questioning of the arguments I presented at various research colloquia. Christoph Meinel saw this study emerge from a very early stage, and I thank him for his thoughtful questions and comments. The project has received substantial financial support from the State Government of Bavaria in the form of a Habilitation scholarship, which allowed me to advance the project in the year 2011–2012.

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