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MEDICINE / CHOLERA / THEMATIC MAP: Intorno al cholera-morbus pestilenziale, ai caratteri e fenomeni patologici, mezzi curativi e preservativi di questa malattia … [On the pestilential cholera-morbus, the pathological characters and phenomena…]


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An uncommon Italian translation of Rapport au conseil supérieur de santé sur le choléra-morbus pestilential… was published in Milan during the Second Pandemic (1827-1835).  The author of the original text was Alexandre Moreau de Jonnès (1778-1870), a French medical doctor, traveler and politician, who was known for his texts on the climate, geography, hygiene and diseases, connecting different parts of the world. In this text he connected his observations on the cholera, made between 1817 and 1831 in Asia and Europe, especially on the Balkans.

Girolamo Novati (1799-1853), who translated the text and wrote annotations, was a Pavia-born Italian medical doctor, who was especially known for his researches on the cholera.


The Map

The book includes an especially fine example of an early map tracing the spread of Cholera across Eurasia during the First Pandemic (1817-24) and the first four years of the Second Pandemic (the map was made in 1831, although the Second Pandemic lasted from 1827-35).  The map is an original work developed for an Italian translation of the French physician Alexandre Moreau de Jonnès’s important work, Rapport au Conseil Supérieur de Santé sur le choléra-morbus pestilential (Paris: Imprimerie de Cosson, 1831), translated by Gilolamo Novati as Intorno al cholera-morbus pestilenziale, ai caratteri e fenomeni patologici, mezzi curativi e preservativi di questa malattia… (Milan: Giovanni Silvestri, 1831).  Critically, the present map is not a copy of the map in Jonnès first edition but is a markedly improved, entirely redesigned work with much more detailed information.

An accomplished work portraying spatiotemporal dynamic events, the map employs pink lines to show the paths of transfer, combined with notes on the dates and death tolls, it traces the spread of the disease from its first great breakout in Jessore, Bengal (August 1817).  As shown, within seven years, the disease spread to infect hundreds of thousands of people from the Mediterranean to China.  By 1818, Cholera had moved across India, affecting Bombay, and by March 1820 it had reached Siam, and then a couple months later the Philippines.  By 1821, it had spread to Oman, in the west, and down to Java, Indonesia, in the southeast, and up to parts of China, in the northeast. 

By 1822, Cholera had spread as far as Japan, in the east, and Persia, Syria and the Caucuses, in the west.  The following year, it reached as far as Astrakhan, Russia (on the Caspian), in the north, and as far as Zanzibar and Mauritius, off Africa, in the south. 

For reasons that are not fully established the First Pandemic was stopped cold in 1824.  It is theorised the that disease played itself out in most of the warmer regions, while the exceptionally severe winter of 1823-4 killed off the Cholera virus in more northern climes. 

The present map was made during the early years of the Second Cholera Pandemic (1827-35), a global scourge that shocked the world and brought the disease to the forefront of European consciousness for the first time.  The pandemic commenced, once again, in Bengal and had spread to China by 1828 and the following year to Persia, via Afghanistan.  From there Cholera spread to Russia, reaching the Urals by 1829 and Moscow by 1830.  The effect on Russia was catastrophic, as over 100,000 people had died of the disease by the time the ‘Russian Cholera Riots’ broke out in 1832.  The map also shows how Cholera spread in the Middle East, with pilgrims having brought the disease to Mecca 1831, killing 10,000 people in that city.

Cholera then spread from Russia to Poland in 1831, and from there to Northern Germany.  A ship sailing from the Baltic landed in Sunderland, in Northern England in December 1831, spreading the disease to London where 7,000 died.  From there Cholera arrived in France, where it killed 100,000 people, and then over to Canada and the north-eastern United States.

The present map notes that from 1817 to 1831, 18 million people had been felled by Cholera in India alone.

The Second Pandemic was a shock to Western society.  Many believed that attacks of mass epidemic killings in their societies, such as The Great Plagues, were the stuff of history.  While Cholera disproportionality affected the poor, the upper classes were chilled by the deaths of many prominent members of their own.  For example, the year before the present map was made, the celebrated Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz (1770 – 1831) was felled by Cholera while encamped near Breslau.

The Second Pandemic prompted serious study into the causes, effects and possible treatments for Cholera, although much of the early hypotheses turned out to be incorrect, in some cases dangerously so.  The first significant breakthrough would not occur until 1854, when Dr. John Snow made the connection between contaminated water and Cholera.  His research caused many European and North American cities, such as New York, Munich and Montreal to bury fetid rivers, canals and sewers, improvements that were the genesis of modern urban sewage/drainage systems.  That same year, the Italian scientist Filippo Pacini correctly identified the bacteria Vibrio cholera as the cause of the disease, but he failed to adequately publicise his discovery.  It was not until 1883, when the German scientist Robert Koch re-identified and widely publicised Vibrio cholera that effective medical solutions to the Cholera crisis were developed.

Further pandemics occurred in various places around the world.  The Third Pandemic (1839-56) affected Europe, North Africa and the Americas.  This proved especially lethal as over 1 million people died in Russia, while 150,00 perished in North America.  The Fourth Pandemic (1863-75) struck Sub-Saharan Africa with a vengeance.  The Fifth (1881-96) and the Sixth Pandemics (1899-23) could have been catastrophic if effective medical intervention did not save millions of lives.  Since then, all the mysteries of Cholera had been unravelled and medical solutions can be readily implemented.  Today the disease has been eliminated from developed nations and only occurs in particularly impoverished tropical regions with especially egregious sanitary conditions.


Mapping Cholera: Pioneering Medical Cartography

Cholera led to the first corpus of truly sophisticated printed medical cartography.  While Yellow Fever was the first disease to be mapped, as early as 1798, these maps tended to be simplistic, merely showing isolated areas of outbreaks of the disease.  Cholera maps rose to a new level of thematic mapping.  We have been able to identify 31 Cholera maps printed between 1820 and 1832.  The advent of the Second Pandemic resulted in a rise in Cholera mapping, with 11 maps published in 1831 and 15 issued in 1832, while several notable maps followed in the succeeding generation.  Many of these maps were dynamic, showing the movement and sometimes the intensity of the disease through various geographic areas.  Some, such at the present map, have a macro view over many regions, while others depict localities, such as the spread of Cholera within cities.  Some other well-known Cholera maps are: Wilhelm Wagner’s Karte über die Verbreitung der Cholera im Preussischen Staate, bis zum 15. Mai 1832 (1832); Rothenberg’s Die cholera Epidemie des Jahres 1832 in Hamburg (1836); August Petermann’s Cholera Map of the British Isles showing the Districts attacked in 1831, 1832, 1833 (1848); Dr. John Snow’s map of Cholera deaths in London 1855.


References: OCLC 876574735, 41625660, 636302477, 797409154 & 14856442. Gazzetta medica di Milano redatta d’Agostino Bertani sotto la …, Vol. 3-4, 1853, pp. 311-312.

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