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Winter 2024 Research Colloquium: Distinguished Lecture

Ended Feb 1, 2024
2 credits

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Full course description

Term: Spring 2024

Date: February 1st, 2024

Time: 12:30pm - 1:30pm

Location: Newman Library Goddard Room (101)


Jessica Otis, "Death By Numbers,"

Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Arthropod-borne Pathogens (CeZAP) Distinguished Speaker Series in Infectious Diseases

Presented By: College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Diversity Grant (link), Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (link), and the Diverse Voices and Perspectives Lecture series (link)



Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Arthropod-borne Pathogens (CeZAP) Distinguished Speaker Series in Infectious Diseases: 

This talk is based upon the Death by Numbers project funded by the National Science Foundation: "One of the most dreaded diseases in early modern England was plague, which was present in the British Isles from 1348 until 1679. The most well-documented epidemics of the early modern era were in England’s cities, particularly London, which suffered six major epidemics in the century between 1563 and 1665, and lost an estimated 225,000 people to plague. Government officials attempted to quantify the severity of various plague outbreaks and, starting in 1603, published London’s weekly mortality statistics in broadside series known as the Bills of Mortality. The bills grew to include not just plague deaths but also dozens of other causes of death, such as childbirth, measles, syphilis, and suicide, ensuring their continued publication for decades after the final outbreak of plague in England. The weekly bills were also supplemented annually with a general account of the preceding year, published on the Thursday before Christmas. Between 1603 and 1752, almost 8,000 different weekly bills were published, chronicling plague and general mortality through the city of London. Using the DataScribe module for Omeka S, the Death by Numbers project aims to transcribe and publish the information in these bills in a dataset suitable for computational analysis. We then use the Bills of Mortality to investigate how lived experiences of plague outbreaks intersected with an emerging quantitative mentality among the people of early modern England. In particular, we examine how ordinary people aggregated, transformed, and interpreted death counts in order to draw conclusions about changes in the early modern use of and trust in numbers over time. In doing so, we are investigating contemporary perceptions of numbers and historicizes a quantitative method of knowledge generation that has become central to twenty-first-century understandings of the world."