Plague in the Ottoman World

Episode 455

The plague is caused by a bacteria called Yersinia pestis, which lives in fleas that in turn live on rodents. Coronavirus is not the plague. Nonetheless, we can find many parallels between the current pandemic and the experience of plague for people who lived centuries ago. This special episode of Ottoman History Podcast brings together lessons from our past episodes on plague and disease in the early modern Mediterranean. Our guests offer state of the art perspectives on the history of plague in the Ottoman Empire, and many of their observations may also be useful for thinking about epidemics in the present day.  

For instructors and students, we encourage you to listen with our comprehension and discussion questions in this GoogleDoc.

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Nükhet Varlık is Associate Professor of History at University of South Carolina. She is a historian of the Ottoman Empire interested in disease, medicine, and public health. Her first book, Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World: The Ottoman Experience, 1347–1600 received the Middle East Studies Association’s Albert Hourani Book Award, the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association’s M. Fuat Köprülü Book Prize, the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean’s Dionysius A. Agius Prize, and the American Association for the History of Medicine’s George Rosen Prize. She is also the Editor of the Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association (2018-23).
Yaron Ayalon is Director of the Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies Program at College of Charleston. He is a social and environmental historian of the Ottoman Empire, the early modern Middle East, and Sephardic Jewry. Ayalon has published numerous articles on Ottoman and Jewish history. He received his BA in education and Middle East history from Tel Aviv University in 2002, and his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton in 2009.
Orhan Pamuk is an author who has published ten novels in Turkish. His critically acclaimed works such as The Black Book, My Name is Red, Snow, and Museum of Innocence have been translated into dozens of languages. In 2006, Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He resides in Istanbul.
Lori Jones is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of History at Carleton University (funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and previously by Associated Medical Services) and a sessional professor at the University of Ottawa. She received her PhD in History from the University of Ottawa in 2017, where her dissertation research focused on changing perceptions of the history and geography of the plague as seen through medical treatises. Her postdoctoral research addresses the interplay between manuscript and print versions of medical texts in the early modern era.
Valentina Pugliano holds a D.Phil from Oxford University, and is currently a researcher at MIT. Her research explores the participation of artisans in fashioning natural history in early modern Italy and histories of Venetian medicine and science in the eastern Mediterranean.
Edna Bonhomme has a Ph.D. in History of Science from Princeton University. She has been a a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for History of Science in Berlin, Germany. Her work focuses on the history of the bubonic plague in Cairo and Tunis during the outbreaks in the 1780s and 1790s. She graduated from Reed College in 2006 with a degree in Biology and from Columbia University with a master's in public health. Prior to pursuing history, she was a research assistant at the Oregon Health and Sciences University. She also is host of the "Decolonization in Action" podcast.


Chris Gratien is Assistant Professor of History at University of Virginia, where he teaches classes on global environmental history and the Middle East. He is currently preparing a monograph about the environmental history of the Cilicia region of the former Ottoman Empire from the 1850s until the 1950s.
Maryam Patton is a PhD candidate at Harvard University in the joint History and Middle Eastern Studies program. She is interested in early modern cultural exchanges, and her dissertation studies cultures of time and temporal consciousness in the Eastern Mediterranean during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.


Episode No. 455
Release Date: 19 March 2020
Recording Locations: Cambridge, MA; Florence, Italy
Music: A.A. Aalto - Entonces; Canyon; Rack Focus, Chad Crouch - Lollygag, Podington Bear - So It Goes
Street sounds of Florence under coronavirus recorded by Maryam Patton
Audio production by Chris Gratien

In the Classroom

We've created this short listening assignment in conjunction with this episode intended for the undergraduate classroom.

Further Listening


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