Thursday, March 26, 2015
March 26, 2015: American Epidemics: Smallpox and Mather
[Inspired both by the recent events I’ll include in Monday’s and Tuesday’s posts and the historical anniversary on which I’ll focus in Friday’s, a series AmericanStudying epidemics, past and present.]
On the inspiring, redemptive response of a Puritan leader to an 18th century epidemic.
A few years back, I had the chance to contribute some pieces to Maggi Smith-Dalton’s wonderful “Salem History Time” column for Boston.com. For my second and third pieces, I focused on two sides to the story and history of one of Salem’s most prominent citizens, Cotton Mather: his moral and social failures during the Witch Trials; and his subsequent, far more admirable responses to the city’s smallpox epidemics. Mostly I wanted to use today’s post to highlight those prior pieces, but I would say one more thing about these two American histories: that they reflect a longstanding conflict between fear and rationality, superstition and enlightenment, the worst of what we believe and how it can divide us and the best of what we can learn and how it can save us. In Mather’s own life, he moved from the former to the latter, from the Witch Trials hysteria to his influential innoculations—may we all find ways to make the same move, individually and collectively.
Last epidemic tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?