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Season 1, Episode 2 · 4 years ago

Episode 102 - Canal Fever

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

This is under the lowbridge and unconventional history of the Erie Canal. In honor of the two hundredth anniversary of its construction, the history department at the University of Rochester presents six environmental stories and you're listening to here. You are, oh bredge, everybody down your neighbor. Hi, I'm Josh Robins and I'm Adrian Harwood. This is episode two canal fever. Josh, what's the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the Erie Canal? Sal The mule. Of course I walked into that one. Yeah, the Erie Canal and it's mules revolutionized economies of New York State, New York City and the US. It created unprecedented prosperity and connected the East Coast to the emerging Midwest. Right. So, what if I told you that in the nineteen century it had another meaning? When people talked about the Erie Canal, they also...

...thought about dirty disease, written cesspools and dangerous me Osthmas. You know what? That reminds me of a case I read about during the construction of the Ohio and Erie extensions of the canal in one thousand eight hundred and twenty five. Really what about it? Let's cruise along the canal to Roscoe, Ohio. It's a warm summer day. A canal worker lies in bed. He Yawns feverishly, his fingernails blue and describes the feelings of lassitudes as little cold sensations shooting up and down his spine until his teeth begin to chatter in his jaw. Dr Samuel Lee prescribes the canal worker whiskey to treat his stabilitating fever. He ain't sick, he's got the agger. You know what? That sounds a lot like canal fever. This is a story about infamous disease, one that was largely misunderstood and is an important piece and helping explain the myth of a dead Irishman for every yard of the canal built in northeastern Ohio during the nineteen century. Aggar was the Ohio laborers variation of Canal fever and is...

...derived from the medical term egg you fever. The sickness was considered to be so inescapable that people actually refused to regard it as a disease, but considered a result of hard work. Engineers, contractors and doctors had adopted this narrow view of egg used causes in an effort to maintain the rigorous construction schedule. It's interesting that, during a time of great technological innovation, medical practices remain primitive. Close attention was paid to bodily humors and idea hatched in ancient Greece when diagnosing and treating such diseases. The four basic humors were blood, yellow and black, bile and phlegm, and the relationship with the four elements wind, air, water, fire compromised health. Physicians had a tendency to view the body as pause, and being exposed to unfamiliar environments and, put particular climates could lead to infection or poor health. This line of thinking is definitely consistent with the Association of poor working conditions on the canal to the contraction of disease. In the worst circumstances, Irish laborers were knee deep in a foot...

...of swamp water, their like swelling from inescapable Damas for twelve to fifteen hours a day. Is still swamp water that engulf the workers bodies was believed to have contained toxic properties and, when consumed through breath and drain, led to the contraction of Aggu fum. Don't forget about the heat. It was also an important factor determining the prevalence of Agu outbreaks. Instances of Agu fever peaks between June and August, the hottest months of the year. In fact, outbreaks have become so widespread during periods of high temperature that contractors had been forced to Hul construction after laborers refused to work out of fear of contracting Agu. So, if an imbalance of humors was supposedly the cause of so much death and suffering, how come I've never heard about it before? It's probably because this view of health and medicine would become obsoletely at the turn of the twenty century. Okay, so what really caused canal fever? Well, just like...

...the canal was a groundbreaking innovation of its time, others would follow. In Linda Nash's Book Inescapable Ecologies, she points to germ theory as the prominent reason that our understanding of medicine has changed forever. It allowed scientists and doctors to look at micro organisms and their role in contributing to the outbreak of disease. Mosquitoes exactly Nash's study in the California Valley actually reveals that the myriad of fevers and diseases affecting these people were very similar to those on the Ohio and Erie Canal. And what was a common feature leading to disease? Proximity to water. So both groups of people fell victim to malarial diseases due to their interactions with the natural environment. The fever, sluggishness intabilitation that works on the canal experienced was actually a strain of malaria all along. Ironic. What do you mean? It just seems ironic that the Erie Canal was one of the greatest technological innovations of its time, yet one of its biggest problems was a lack...

...of medicinal technology available to treat a dying workforce. Well, can now fever shows that there was more to the Erie Canal than just trade and travel. The prevalence of age and all of its malarial cousins reveal that a nineteen century understanding of disease was largely shaped by porous bodies and their love hate relationship with the natural environment. So, despite the fact that the canal and its mule saw economic prosperity right around the corner, it came at the cost of the thousands of lives. The abundance of Irish graves that sit parallel to the Ohio and nearing today serve as a reminder that all this contains some sort of truth, but in some cases the truth might have a little more to it than we would like to be this episode was made possible by the generous support of several departments at the University of Rochester. The here or team like to thank listen meat at the Department of rare books and special collections, Blair Tinker in...

...the digital scholarship lab, Stephen Ressner at the Department of Audio and music engineering and, last but not least, the Department of history. Every.

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