ABSTRACT

In many respects, the history of human civilization is a history of disease. The rise of diverse societies in Eurasia and Africa during the first millennium coincided with new transcontinental networks of trade and migration that opened new routes of disease transmission. Japan may have encountered smallpox as early as the eighth century, after a period of increasing contact with the Asian mainland. Other lands orbiting the Eurasian and African continents also likely suffered from unfamiliar disease outbreaks upon sustained contact with the continents, such as the British Isles following the expansion of the Roman Empire, Madagascar after the arrival of Arab traders, and the mid-Atlantic islands following their conquest by the Portuguese and Spanish. Compared with people living in other parts of the world, Europeans, Africans, and Asians developed greater contact, transcontinental networks of trade, and were more likely to live with and exchange diseases with numerous domesticated animals. The diseases that Europeans and African slaves carried when they began crossing the Atlantic for the Americas aided European dreams of wealth and conquest. Epidemics, warfare, and labor exploitation contributed to the collapse of a number of native American societies (see Chapter 4). Beginning in the eighteenth century, commerce, conquest, and colonization accelerated the transmission of epidemics and pandemics (global epidemics) that affected the Pacific Basin. For example, approximately 90 per cent of the indigenous Hawai’ian population died of “new” diseases in the century after its “discovery” by James Cook.