Epidemics and Native American Literature: Rethinking Narratives of Disease and Disappearance
Kelly Wisecup, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Northwestern University
Long description: Between 1616 and 1620, diseases swept throughout New England, devastating Native American communities and killing up to 90-95 percent of the indigenous people living in the area. When English colonists began to arrive in the 1620s, they interpreted the epidemics as a providential sign that they were intended to settle in New England and that a divine force had “emptied” the land for them. Scholars later extended this argument, by describing post-epidemic New England as a “virgin land,” and by lamenting that no Native histories of the epidemics survived to provide insight into the experiences of disease. This talk offers new readings of histories of the epidemics by tracing Native responses to the epidemics, as recorded in several colonial texts. It shows that, despite colonial and scholarly narratives of disappearance, New England Native people employed various strategies for interpreting and responding to the epidemics and the colonists who followed.
Organized by International Program Development and Global Health Studies, and co-sponsored by the Department of History.