Stanford University
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Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1850: Scale, Time, and Space
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Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1850: Scale, Time, and Space

Authors: Peter Shannon, Erik Steiner, Whitney Berry, Ryan Delaney, David Sabeti, Mithu Datta, T.C. Alves, and Zephyr Frank

Yellow fever's first days in Rio de Janeiro came on the heels of weeks of rumor and anxiety among sanitary authorities of the city. The first cases were confirmed in January 1850, after the fever was reported to have arrived by ship from Bahia in December of the previous year. By February of 1850, a series of medical commissions had been created to deal with the crisis in the various parishes of the city. In spite of the efforts of Rio de Janeiro's medical establishment and associated forces of public order, the disease caused panic and dealt death throughout the city from January through May of 1850, tapering off at the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the cooler months of winter.

This visualization explores the way different temporal aggregations of data can shift interpretations of the spatial pattern of epidemics. The tool displays the distribution of yellow fever and tuberculosis deaths in the Sacramento Parish of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil during 1850. The two diseases had different spatial and temporal footprints and had different effects on the neighborhoods of the city.

Deaths can be viewed as point locations aggregated by the day, week or month, and animated through the course of the year. Each frame of the animation reveals new deaths from the diseases, and the pattern is different depending on the level of temporal aggregation. For the week and month levels, it is also possible to view "Trend Maps" that show the trend of deaths immediately preceding those happening at the selected time.

By overlaying these two layers - discrete points and smoothed trend surfaces - the viewer can see how patterns of yellow fever and tuberculosis changed or stayed consistent over time. New points that fall within hot spots of the trend maps reflect continuity in the experience of death in that neighborhood - where yellow fever or tuberculosis had a strong presence. Where the layers are distinct, a very different experience of death may have emerged.

Data Source:

Arquivo da Curia Metropolitana, Rio de Janeiro: LISTA DE OBITOS DA FREGUESIA DO SACRAMENTO DA SE DO ANO DE 1850, COD.0168

Further reading:

Sidney Chalhoub, "The Politics of Disease Control: Yellow Fever and Race in Nineteenth Century Rio de Janeiro," Journal of Latin American Studies 25:5 (1993): 441-463, esp. 455-457;

Sidney Chalhoub, Cidade febril: corticos e epidemias na Corte imperial (Sao Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1996); and

Sandra Lauderdale Graham, House and Street: The Domestic World of Servants and Masters in Nineteenth-Century Rio de Janeiro (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992), chapter 5, "contagion and control."

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