Saturday, August 26, 2017

"the empathetic freedom felt by interpreters of such distant epidemics, and their willingness to judge individuals’ failings or heroism"

Unauthenticated source
     "Eyam plague was not, of course, a romantic interlude in village life: the bloody weight of the epidemic is unavoidably asserted by the death roll of the parish register, whether it was over three-quarters or under one half of the inhabitants who died. The villagers, Mompesson, Stanley and their neighbours may or may not have saved the area from further infection, but that this question remains unresolved hardly diminishes the horror of the events they experienced. This very extremity of experience which gives the story its enduring interest must also give us greatest pause for thought when seeking to understand such events or to interpret the heroic or romantic narratives that continue to permeate accounts of epidemics, even in the more recent inversions where the old heroes are dethroned and bravery reinterpreted as tragic ignorance. It is salutary to contrast the empathetic freedom felt by interpreters of such distant epidemics, and their willingness to judge individuals’ failings or heroism, with the more recent recognition by historians and others of the difficulties of addressing and representing traumatic events such as genocide, which constantly escape our attempt to grasp and describe them. As William Mompesson noted after the epidemic had drawn to a close: 'The condition of the place has been so sad, that I persuade myself it did exceed all history and example.'"

    Patrick Wallis, “A dreadful heritage:  interpreting epidemic disease at Eyam, 1666-2000,” History workshop journal no. 61 (2006):  50 (31-56).

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