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Book Cover for: Necropolis: Disease, Power, and Capitalism in the Cotton Kingdom, Kathryn Olivarius

Necropolis: Disease, Power, and Capitalism in the Cotton Kingdom

Kathryn Olivarius

Winner of the Frederick Jackson Turner Award
Winner of James H. Broussard Best First Book Prize, SHEAR
Winner of the Kemper and Leila Williams Prize in Louisiana History
Winner of the Humanities Book of the Year Award, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

"A brilliant book...This transformative work is a pivotal addition to the scholarship on American slavery."
--Annette Gordon-Reed

"A stunning account of 'high-risk, high-reward' profiteering in the yellow fever-ridden Crescent City...a world in which a deadly virus altered every aspect of a brutal social system, exacerbating savage inequalities of enslavement, race, and class."
--John Fabian Witt, author of American Contagions

"Olivarius's new perspectives on yellow fever, immunocapitalism, and the politics of acclimation...will influence a generation of scholars to come on the intersections of racism, slavery, and public health."
--The Lancet

In antebellum New Orleans, at the heart of America's slave and cotton kingdoms, epidemics of yellow fever killed as many as 150,000 people. With little understanding of the origins of the illness--and meager public health infrastructure--one's only hope if infected was to survive, providing the lucky few with a mysterious form of immunity. Repeated epidemics bolstered New Orleans's strict racial hierarchy by introducing another hierarchy, a form of "immunocapital," as white survivors leveraged their immunity to pursue economic and political advancement while enslaved Blacks were relegated to the most grueling labor.

The question of health--who has it, who doesn't, and why--is always in part political. Necropolis shows how powerful nineteenth-century Orleanians constructed a society that capitalized on mortal risk and benefited from the chaos that ensued.

Book Details

  • Publisher: Belknap Press
  • Publish Date: Apr 1st, 2024
  • Pages: 352
  • Language: English
  • Dimensions: 0.00in - 0.00in - 0.00in - 0.00lb
  • EAN: 9780674295551
  • Categories: United States - 19th CenturyAfrican American & BlackHistory

About the Author

Olivarius, Kathryn: - Kathryn Olivarius is a prizewinning historian of slavery, medicine, and disease whose writing and research has been featured in the New York Times, Scientific American, and the Washington Post. She is Assistant Professor of History at Stanford University.
Praise for this book
A brilliant book. Olivarius's insightful reading of sources and beautiful writing give us a new and important way to think about slavery, race, health, and hierarchy. This transformative work is a pivotal addition to the scholarship on American slavery.--Annette Gordon-Reed, author of On Juneteenth
This book is prescient for the questions it provokes about our experiences of COVID-19...Necropolis shows how elite white people exploited disease in this uniquely unhealthy space for their own personal gain...Olivarius's new perspectives on yellow fever, immunocapitalism, and the politics of acclimation are a powerful addition to this important body of scholarship that will influence a generation of scholars to come on the intersections of racism, slavery, and public health.--Richard M. Mizelle, Jr. "The Lancet" (10/1/2022 12:00:00 AM)
More than two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, the social, economic and political implications of public health crises are more apparent than ever--as is the fact that people of color and poorer communities often bear the brunt of these contagions' consequences. [This] new analysis of yellow fever in antebellum New Orleans highlights striking parallels with the ongoing pandemic.--Karin Wulf "Smithsonian" (4/19/2022 12:00:00 AM)
Olivarius's account is rich in thick descriptions of this fevered environment. She adeptly resurrects voices not just from elite men but from women, the impoverished, and even from former slaves...An excellent reconsideration of the impact of yellow fever on a major southern trading port in the antebellum era.--Margaret Humphreys "Civil War Book Review" (8/25/2022 12:00:00 AM)
Necropolis makes a compelling argument for the near-determinative nature of disease in antebellum New Orleans...It is also hard to imagine [a book] more thought-provoking or more appropriate as a mirror to our current moment. Thus, Necropolis will stimulate all readers--as much the general public as students of medical history, American slavery, capitalism, or the South writ large.--Robert Colby "H-Net Reviews" (3/1/2023 12:00:00 AM)
Necropolis offers revelatory insights into how capitalism controls responses to disease, and how disease exacerbates inequalities, arguments that feel particularly prescient in the midst of an ongoing coronavirus pandemic...An engrossing and timely work of scholarship.--Kevin McQueeney "Journal of Southern History" (7/31/2023 12:00:00 AM)
Olivarius puts a rich trove of primary sources to good use, lending the volume authenticity in its arguments and engaging readability while demonstrating the lengths to which New Orleans residents went to preserve the cyclical epidemic status quo, which preserved Creole dominance and limited the success of American and European immigrants.-- "Choice" (4/1/2023 12:00:00 AM)
Captivating...Olivarius illuminates the complex workings of 'immunocapitalism' and paints a vivid picture of antebellum New Orleans. This is a timely and thought-provoking look at how disease outbreaks have exacerbated inequality in America.-- "Publishers Weekly" (1/25/2022 12:00:00 AM)
Olivarius delivers a stunning account of 'high-risk, high-reward' profiteering in the yellow fever-ridden Crescent City. Nineteenth-century New Orleans appears as a world in which a deadly virus altered every aspect of a brutal social system, exacerbating savage inequalities of enslavement, race, and class--inequalities that will have readers pondering the choices we make as a society in epidemics of our own.--John Fabian Witt, author of American Contagions: Epidemics and the Law from Smallpox to COVID-19
A real page-turner. Necropolis propels the reader along, not least because the parallels to our coronavirus pandemic are impossible to ignore. Olivarius is convincing in her argument that disease was an important way to wield power--political, economic, and racial. This fresh, beautifully written book makes original contributions to the literatures on medicine, capitalism, politics, and welfare.--Leslie M. Harris, author of In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863
In flowing prose, Olivarius offers an intriguing account of the systematic relationship between yellow fever and power in nineteenth-century New Orleans. Her innovative term 'immunocapitalism' brings together multiple threads to show the ways in which yellow fever was not simply a natural phenomenon, no matter how much those who profited because of its inequitable impact tried to naturalize it. Deeply researched, extremely well written, and provocatively argued, Necropolis is a rich and fascinating book.--Edward E. Baptist, author of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism
The remarkable thing about Necropolis is that its subject has been hiding in plain sight all along. In nineteenth-century New Orleans, yellow fever was more than an episodic worry; it saturated everyday consciousness, splitting the world between those who had gained immunity and those who had not. No effort was spared to prove that the scourge's supposedly deterministic properties not only necessitated African enslavement, but also produced the foreign exchange that kept the urban economy humming. Olivarius unpacks this story with skill and feeling in a book of truly impressive research and scope.--Lawrence N. Powell, author of The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans