Final Public Oral Exam: Edna Bonhomme

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
May 30, 2017 - 12:30pm
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

Plagued Bodies and Spaces: Medicine, Trade, and Death in Ottoman Egypt and Tunisia, 1705-1830 CE


D. Graham Burnett, adviser
Keith Wailoo
M'hamed Oualdi
Amy Kallander, Syracuse University


This dissertation examines the history of the bubonic plague, trade, and imperialism in Ottoman Egypt and Tunisia between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Before there was a cure for Yersenia pestis (the bacteria that causes the bubonic plague), the disease posed a demographic crisis in North Africa and disrupted merchant trade, funeral rites, and social life. When the epidemic struck, it generated anxiety and fear among authorities and laypeople alike, thus spawning a call to action by those who were directly impacted by the disease. This research shows how contagion theory, merchant capital, and political leadership influenced the ability for state and non-state actors to manage several plague outbreaks in Ottoman Egypt and Tunisia. What it goes to show is how autochthons and denizens incorporated quarantine in port areas, utilized popular healing techniques, and buried the recently plagued corpses. Eighteenth-century Egyptians and Tunisians experienced plague in a number of ways; however, the customs and habits that authorities, merchants, and 'ulamā' (scholars) exercised dovetailed with their access to resources and power. The plague outbreaks during the eighteenth century also coincided with the expansion of merchant capital in Egypt and Tunisia—mostly with the East India Company and the Royal African Company. These constituents and their agents influenced the ability of goods and people to migrate across the Mediterranean Sea and across the African continent. While power dynamics were more horizontal in the early eighteenth century, the French military occupation (1798-1801) was a major site of contestation for how local authorities managed the plague outbreaks in Egypt. Two consequences of the bubonic plague epidemic are that officials labeled marginalized groups as vectors of disease and non-elite plague victims often lacked commemoration. Overall, this project sheds light on the political developments and tensions during several major epidemics in Cairo and Tunis while attending to nascent modernization projects in North Africa.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review one week before the exam in the History Graduate Student Lounge: 105 Dickinson Hall.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Area of Interest: 
History of Technology
Material Culture
Medicine & Health
Middle East and North Africa
17th & 18th Centuries
19th Century