Nicholas Bonneau, University of Notre Dame
Carpenter Fellow in Early American Religious Studies/Friends of MCEAS Fellow
“Unspeakable Loss, Distempered Awakenings: North America's Invisible Throat
Distemper Epidemic of 1735–1765”
Nick’s dissertation, “Unspeakable Loss: North America’s Invisible Throat Distemper Epidemic of 1735–1765,” looks at a catastrophic epidemic among children beginning in 1735 Kingston, NH and extending into the pre-revolutionary decade. While the New England throat distemper epidemic never achieved the notoriety acquired by other more notorious diseases of the colonial era, no plague of that period proved more deadly to European settlers, taking the lives of 5,000 children in its first four years alone.
This project asks why so devastating an event escaped comment by so many contemporaries and past historians, while raising interpretive questions informing our larger views of change, the priority of documentation, and the role of memory. To aid in this research, Nick created the Death Records of Early America Database (DREAD), compiling and organizing mortality information from across the Atlantic World. The quantitative and spatial analysis made possible by this ongoing work promises to illuminate the unique intersection between these biological and social realities and allows new research into the ongoing social and ecological consequences of the Columbian Exchange.