What Is Yellow Fever? Disease and Causation in Environmental History



While environmental historians have found it tempting to treat diseases as natural entities that have shaped the human past, most diseases so thoroughly entangle the natural and the cultural that consigning them to nature can be reductive and misleading. This article uses the history of yellow fever—a disease whose virus and vector originated in Africa and spread throughout the Atlantic—to tell just such a story of entanglement, to raise larger questions about causation in environmental history, and to argue that we need to see diseases not as intruders into but essential products of history.

Author Biography

Paul Sutter, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA

Paul Sutter is a professor of History at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He received his PhD from the University of Kansas in 1997. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia from 1997 to 2000, and then a member of the History Department at the University of Georgia from 2000 to 2009. He is the series editor for “Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books,” published by the University of Washington Press, and he was the founding editor of the “Environmental History and the American South” book series published by the University of Georgia Press. Paul has held fellowships from the Smithsonian Institution, the Huntington Library, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Institutes of Health, and the Rachel Carson Center. He is currently working on a book, tentatively titled Pulling the Teeth of the Tropics: Environment, Disease, Race, and the US Sanitary Program in Panama, 1904–1914, which interprets American expansion and imperial public health through the lens of environmental history.