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Anthrax in Transit: Practical Experience and Intellectual Exchange


Focusing on three Anglo-American outbreaks of industrial anthrax, this essay engages the question of how local circumstances influenced the transmission of scientific knowledge in the late nineteenth century. Walpole (Massachusetts), Glasgow, and Bradford (Yorkshire) served as important nodes of transnational investigation into anthrax. Knowledge about the morphology and behavior of Bacillus anthracis changed little while in transit between these nodes, even during complex debates about the nature of bacterial morphology, disease causation, and spontaneous generation. Working independently of their more famous counterparts (Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur), Anglo-American anthrax investigators used visual representations of anthrax bacilli to persuade their peers that a specific, identifiable cause produced all forms of anthrax-malignant pustule (cutaneous anthrax), intestinal anthrax, and woolsorter's disease (pneumonic anthrax). By the late 1870s, this point of view also supported what we would today call an ecological notion of the disease's origins in the interactions of people, animals, and microorganisms in the context of global commerce.

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Jones, Susan D., and Philip M. Teigen. 2008. "Anthrax in Transit: Practical Experience and Intellectual Exchange." Isis (September): 455-485. http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdf/10.1086/591709

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