The Ecology of Yellow Fever in Antebellum New Orleans: Sugar, Water Control, and Urban Development


  • Urmi Engineer Willoughby Murray State University, USA


In antebellum New Orleans, the increased frequency and virulence of yellow fever was not a simple consequence of the Atlantic slave trade. The growth of large-scale sugar production and the consequent growth of the city as an urban port necessitated major changes to regional landscape and water system, which facilitated the growth of the city’s <i>Aedes aegypti</i> mosquito population. Meanwhile, the growth of the urban human population, which included a large proportion of newcomers who had not previously been exposed to yellow fever, provided a host population that enabled the virus to thrive.

Author Biography

Urmi Engineer Willoughby, Murray State University, USA

Urmi Engineer Willoughby is an Assistant Professor of History at Murray State University. She completed her doctorate at the University of California-Santa Cruz, and has held postdoctoral fellowships in comparative world history at Colby College and at the University of Pittsburgh’s World History Center. She approaches histories of disease and medicine from a global and ecological perspective. Her research focuses on disease and ecology in the Mississippi Valley, Gulf South, and Caribbean, and draws connections between the southern United States, the colonial Atlantic, and South Asia. Her forthcoming book, Yellow Fever, Race, and Ecology in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans, will be published in Louisiana University Press’s series on “The Natural World of the Gulf South.” The book examines the environmental, social, and cultural history of yellow fever epidemics in New Orleans in a global framework. Her other research projects include a study of the ecology of malaria and yellow fever in the Mississippi Valley, and a cultural history of perceptions of immunity to yellow fever in the Atlantic World.