Invisibility and Epidemic Disease: Visual Obscurity during Outbreaks of Plague
Miss Claire TurnerPadlet
The obscurity of vision is almost always imbued with social, cultural, and medical meaning. ‘The Invisibility of Epidemic Disease’ is a presentation which encourages scholars to consider the significance of what cannot be seen in instances of illness and recovery. It highlights the mutable nature of the sense of sight by investigating occasions when sight was impeded, obscured, or completely absent. Contemporaries of plague outbreaks in seventeenth-century London were predominantly concerned with the means by which sight could be impaired by the plague itself. However, this presentation will illuminate the ways in which attempts to treat and manage the plague also involved visual obscurity. Through a micro-study of William Simpson’s warning concerning the use of fumigation in Zenexton ante-pestilentiale (1665), this presentation will offer distinct perspectives on the history of visual impairment. It will argue that the sense of sight was both manipulated and adversely affected in an attempt to halt the spread of disease. Normally conceived of as the most intellectual and cognitive of the senses, sight became contested, uncertain, and almost entirely absent.