And does the concern of the Leviticus writer, the panic of late medieval southern French society, and the fear of the anti-communist investigator derive from some common trans-historical Judeo-Christian revulsion at the disease, or does each of these instances have a historical specificity that makes it misleading to run them together in the way that I have so far been doing? The simple answer to the first of these questions is almost certainly not. Even within the Bible, the symptoms of leprosy in Leviticus are different, for example, from those described by Aaron in Numbers. And for all that leprosy continued to be run together with other skin diseases, it was also imperative to differentiate a disease that was believed to be highly contagious and whose consequences for the sufferer were so serious.
Accurate diagnosis was, on the one hand, impossible, and on the other, essential. Versions of this dilemma haunted the disease until well into the twentieth century. Does a constant set of causes underlie the apparent continuity of response to leprosy since biblical times? For a medical scientist such as Olaf K. Skinsnes, leprosy is a disease with a unique medical pathology that produces a unique social response; a constant set of causes results in an identical stigma wherever the disease appears. Biblical tradition and the literary imagination, he suggests, have been particularly important in sustaining this account of the history of the disease.
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There are, however, significant differences between the two. Gussow treats modern leprosy almost as if it were a new disease, although he declines to be drawn into the question of the continuity or otherwise of biblical and medieval leprosy with its modern forms. A close look at the expanding Western world during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries suffices. For him the important point is that Judeo-Christian societies at different historical moments have used the label as if it did describe a constant condition.
Although many of the causes underlying the prominence often given to leprosy have undoubtedly changed, the need for a disease that provided a physical basis upon which to exclude certain groups persisted. Or, more precisely, this need became urgent at particular periods.
Professor Rod Edmond - School of English - University of Kent
Within the smaller, more circumscribed cultures of Europe in the Middle Ages the question of who did and did not belong must often have been pressing. Large-scale movements of people, such as the Crusades, were particularly disturbing. Disease spread, new diseases were introduced, and other kinds of imagined contamination followed. Similarly in the modern colonial period, the mass movement of indentured labourers from India, China and Japan across the Caribbean, Indian and Pacific oceans brought heightened fears of the spread of disease, which in turn offered a language with which to stigmatise and denigrate these migrants.
So although Gussow is surely right to insist that the meanings attributed to leprosy have always been historically fashioned, this is not to deny the persistence of certain causes of both a social and psychological kind. The disease might or might not have been the same, the specific social groups which leprosy has been used to stigmatise have varied, but the suitability of leprosy for the purpose of stigmatisation has been remarkably persistent. There might have been periods when the stigma that leprosy attracts was less intense, but it has remained more constant than Gussow allows.
His determination to destigmatise the condition by insisting on the historical specificity of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century lepraphobia leads him to understate the persistent tradition of stigmatising the disease that has characterised European cultures. My concern is to try and read the stigma through time and to understand better the varying historical conditions in which it has been produced. Foucault, however, overstates the case when he claims that leprosy disappeared from Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It lingered in parts of Europe, particularly in Spain and Norway, and during the first half of the nineteenth century there was growing awareness of its persistence and its possible return to other parts of Europe.
The prevalence of leprosy among sections of the Norwegian peasantry was confirmed by leprosy surveys and censuses in the s and 40s and resulted in a national leprosy register in Norway by The possible recrudescence of the disease sparked a revival of interest in its history and aetiology.
The disease never entirely went away, and so it did not need to be reinvented. Instead, the persistence of leprosy in parts of Europe, and an enduring tradition of stigmatisation, intersected with a rapidly changing imperial world from around the turn of the nineteenth century to produce a modern version of the disease that drew heavily on biblical and medieval ways of understanding it.
This process whereby a Judeo-Christian discourse on leprosy was inflected by the modern history of colonialism to reconstruct leprosy and the figure of the leper was extremely complex. Neither Foucault nor Gussow take sufficient account of the profound ambivalence that was intrinsic to Judeo-Christian responses to the disease. Foucault swings from medieval horror of the disease to its disappearance in the post-medieval world. Sakata, K. Sawano, M.
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The salience of nationally bounded histories has been questioned by historians who have commented on processes of circulation. This has led to an emerging consensus about how colonial entanglements have contributed to the making of modern European 4 See especially Tony Ballantyne, Orientalism and Race: Aryanism in the British Empire, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, ; C. Essay review 3 science. These recent works have built upon earlier engagements of histories of science and medicine with postcolonial thought.