Re: diseases and immunity

Eric Brunner (
28 Jun 1996 15:05:41 GMT

Philip Deitiker ( wrote:
: Beth Williams) wrote:
: > You still seem to have bought into the Eurocentric,
: >pre-1900 view that North America was sparsely populated in comparison
: >to Europe and Mezoamerica... Perhaps a review of Medieval demographics
: >would be of some assistance in this matter. When Verrazano sailed up
: >the New York/New England coast in 1524, he commented in depth that it
: >was far more populated than most of the areas he had seen in Europe.
: >Even if you don't want to take the word of European eyewitnesses, the
: >material and historic records support very high population estimates in
: >the Northeast. Thousands of fathoms of wampum were collected by
: >English and Dutch governments in the early 1600s -- which in turn
: >translates to _millions_ of beads of wampum, beads which had to be
: >handmade by coastal artisans. Europeans _with lathes_ couldn't keep up
: >with local indigenous producers until after the epidemics and wars of
: >attrition in the mid-late 17th century.

: This sounds very much like revisionist history to me.

What it sounds like to _you_ isn't an issue of general interest. The
historical record of Verrazano and English/Dutch/Spanish journals and
ethnographic problems these present, as well as the archaeological
record is however.

: Why don't you
: recall for me how many people died in the volanic explosion at pompey
: or the massive earthquake in china.

That would be rather a detour from the topic now wouldn't it?

: discussion. I agree that the 'myth' of an empty america was
: perpetuated by europeans and populations levels maybe underestimate;

That is nice, since several centuries of Indigenous texts, the archaeologcial
record, particularly in the past 20+ years of work on the Contact Population
problem, and most of post-Nationalist Americanist for the past two decades
are rather unambiguous on the myth, its creators, the interests it served,
and the off-by-an-order-of-magnitude problem the Schoolcraft/Mooney/Kroeber
(AMS) estimates present for the Americas north of Mexico.

: The argument which _was_ the focus of discussion was which of the
: following explantions might explain the apparant destructiveness of
: european disease in the temperate america.

: 1. Shere lack of genetic factors capable of mediating facil immunity.

Firl's tin-pot pseudo-science. Defunct on issues, like most Firlisms.
Not made more viable by late 20th century immuo studies of Amazonians
or Africans, due to profound differences in the social organizations
of the modern study populations (Watkins' of a 300 person Warani was
offered) and social organization prior to and subsequent to Colonial
imposition of forced labor, encomeda, and chattel slavery with all of
the attendent contagation issues.

: 2. Lack of maternal 'disease-specific' immunity in a nascent
: population for multiple diseases.

Requires a basic ignorance of the mechanism for immunity transference,
or the assumption that the population in question achieved reproduction
capability prior to the age of weaning. Not known to be the case in any

: 3. Lack of population sizes and technology capable of stopping or
: slowing down immigrant waves, and thus penetration, social
: perturbation and disease.

"Vacent America" redoux.

: 4. Lack of dipersed periodic exposure and related non-genetic
: components of population immunity to the number of european diseases
: or conversely being exposed to a number of life threatening and highly
: communicable diseases in a relatively short time frame, without the
: experience of hieghtened exposure the industrializing europe.

What an overblown way to write: "No Old World domesticants, hence few
shared-pathway pathogens". Jerking 15th century Europe into the industrial
period is hardly helpful, since we've real 15th century Europe, not some
fantesy, to work with. The efficacy of endemic and epidemic medical care
in the historical and archaeological records, and mortality and morbidity
data, modern and pre-modern, as our primary sources.

: 5. Presence of other factors (social) which altered the health and the
: disease resisting ability of the immune system.

Rather open ended and non-epidemiological. No pathogens need apply. Hardly

: You can make the argument that there were regions of higher population
: density which augmented the spread;

Like just about any epidemiologically aware person.

: however, this doesn't really bear
: on the issue of how the entire population of temperate amerinds was
: reduced to usable land a small fraction of its original size.

Land? Try people.

: interesting the presence of many of these diseases were spotted
: immediately before europeans had moved into regions and I postulate
: that the unseen social changes which occured as a result of european
: expansion created a situation in which all factors (including lack of
: exposure) interplayed to reduce numbers.

Before the fact, therefore because of the fact???

Just how does postulating the unseen improve this discourse?

: consider the most populated 625 sq. miles of England with the
: northeast, huh, that would make better sense (don't you think), and to
: add this. England was not the only source of immigrants to the region
: for the period ...

See "The Peopling of British North America" (author's name forgotton).
If "only" is substituted for something less meaningless, e.g., "primary",
then the falsity of the assertion, or its inutility, is clear.

: the colonizers and the introducers of diseases. If you want I can
: argue that a transatlantic ship had a popualtion density of 2 million
: people per square mile and even if you divide that 3 week event over

Oy vey. Even Dominic Green has less wierd (and funnier) moments of working
up an absurdity to the point of general laughter.

Deletions. Vastly too long, too unfocused, too simply argumentative from
a poorly educated (even for a Eurocentricist) PoV.

Eric Brunner