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A dreadful heritage: interpreting epidemic disease at Eyam, 1666-2000

Wallis, Patrick ORCID: 0000-0003-1434-515X (2006) A dreadful heritage: interpreting epidemic disease at Eyam, 1666-2000. History Workshop Journal, 61 (1). pp. 31-56. ISSN 1363-3554

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Identification Number: 10.1093/hwj/dbi060


The events of the plague epidemic that afflicted Eyam, a small village in Derbyshire, in 1665-6 have made the village famous. It attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year, making it an epicentre of Europe's plague heritage. The story of Eyam's plague is told as an exemplary narrative of heroic self-sacrifice, in which the villagers suffer in self-imposed isolation in order to save the county from the disease. It is, however, largely a fiction, a romantic tragedy constructed on a slender basis of evidence in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This paper examines the process by which this narrative emerged and was subsequently adapted and revised over three centuries. It shows how the plague story became a prominent part of English heritage, a basic element in understanding the space and past of the village, and the foundation of its tourist trade. The construction of the plague story offers an unusually clear case study in the social and intellectual dynamics of the creation of heritage and history, and the transformations that have occurred in the epistemic and disciplinary foundations of academic and popular literary and historical production over this period. The influence of changing ideas of social order and discipline, of familial duties and emotions, and of communal responsibility can be clearly traced through the various iterations of the plague story. It also allows us to explore the more specific interactions of epidemiology, disease and histories of disease.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2006 The Author
Divisions: Economic History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
Date Deposited: 14 Aug 2008 14:23
Last Modified: 01 Apr 2024 08:14

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