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Anchored and Bound: Reading the Fixed and Movable Landscapes of Medical Isolation in the Nineteenth Century

Sat, April 13, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Hyatt Regency Columbus, Morrow

Session Submission Type: Panel


Isolation, quarantine’s primary principle, disrupts spatial flows and patterns. But isolation is more than an end point; it is a creative process. This panel will demonstrate the multitude of ways in which isolated landscapes were imagined and constructed in the long nineteenth century. Recent historical works have drawn a critical eye toward hospital architecture, exploring the inscription of medical nosology onto material spaces. While historians of medicine present health infrastructure as a reflection of the state of medical knowledge, our panel suggests that institutions of isolation must be understood through an environmental lens that accounts for non-human actors. Patient health and physician expertise were not paramount to the construction of isolated landscapes. The layered anxieties of lay populations extended beyond the health status of quarantined bodies. Individual papers will highlight the environmental, material, and spatial dimensions of quarantine, with a particular attention to non-fixed, floating hospital structures. We will explore the ship’s conflicting status as both a pathogenic and health-generating environment and its role within wider public health networks. Equal attention will be given to the unique properties of island environments, and the ways in which the physical limitation of space and perception of separation influenced human power dynamics. In our current historic moment, when walls, borders, and the principles of isolation are shaping global geopolitical conversations, it is particularly important to consider how landscapes of isolation have been historically constructed and understood.

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