Alex Chase-Levenson

Assistant Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania

My area of focus is the history of nineteenth-century Britain, both domestically and across the Empire and broader world. Major areas of interest include British engagement with the Middle East and Mediterranean, French and British encounters with epidemic diseases in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, nineteenth-century histories of liberalism and reform, and the history of museums and display. Before coming to Princeton, I received an A.B. from Harvard in History and Literature (2008) and an M.Phil. from Cambridge in Modern European History (2009).

At Princeton, I'm a sixth-year graduate student in the History Department. I received my M.A. in History in 2011, on the completion of my General Exams with fields in Modern Britain and its Empire (Linda Colley), Modern France (Philip Nord), and Great Powers in the Mediterranean (Molly Greene).

Research Interests

My dissertation examines British engagement with the Mediterranean quarantine system during the late eighteenth and nineteenth century. Quarantine was imposed on all travelers, traders, missionaries, soldiers, and others returning from the "East" (usually the Ottoman Empire) to Western Europe until the 1850s. In a more limited way, the system lingered on until the final years of the nineteenth century. My focus is on the final century of the system—roughly 1780 to 1870.

Although quarantine had long been a feature of Mediterranean exchange, by the late eighteenth century, it demarcated a barrier between a plague-free West and an ostensibly plague-ridden "East." Although the plagues of Marseille (1720) and Messina (1744) marked the final major epidemics in Western Europe, devastating plague epidemics continued to kill thousands in the Ottoman Empire and North Africa. As a result, quarantine gradually began to signal a major global barrier—between West and East, health and disease, and security and contagion. Plague, often considered a pre-modern disease, had singular importance in the modern era. I argue that Western European encounters with epidemic plague (and other contagions) in the Middle East, and precautions against it taken at home, encouraged the growth of the modern state, provoked transnational sanitary cooperation in Western Europe, and fostered an imaginative framework which linked exoticism, "Eastern-ness," and epidemic disease.

Although I approach the issue of quarantine through the lens of British history, I focus on transnational themes and phenomena. Major issues I consider include the meaning of quarantine as a border space, its significance as a barrier for global trade, its role in nineteenth-century medical controversies, its relevance in imperial and diplomatic histories of the Mediterranean, and its power as a cultural signifier.

Peer-Reviewed Articles

Chase-Levenson, Alexander. "Annihilating Time and Space: Eclecticism and Virtual Tourism at the Sydenham Crystal Palace" Nineteenth-Century Contexts 34 (2012): 461-475.

Chase-Levenson, Alexander. "The Near East and the West End: Spectacle, History, and the Presentation of the Ancient Near East in Britain, 1800-1860." Victorian Institute Journal 39 (2012): 145-171.

Dissertation Title:

"Quarantine, Contagion, and Imaginative Geography in the British Mediterranean World, 1780-1870"

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