Professor Kathryn Olivarius discusses her book, Necropolis: Disease, Power, and Capitalism in the Cotton Kingdom. Professor Olivarius uses yellow fever to frame how wealth, class, and race developed in the economic powerhouse antebellum city of New Orleans. Developing from three vector points of disease, acclimation, and immunocapital the social and political elite held their grip over the economics of the city by weaponizing yellow fever. Survival of the disease was the only way to advance toward wealth. Enslavement became defined by yellow fever as well, first claiming slaves were biologically immune, then after Emancipation claiming freed slaves were unable to care for themselves. While the Nation’s fortunes shifted, New Orleans was forced to clean up its act, literally and figuratively.
Kathryn Olivarius is a prizewinning historian of slavery, medicine, and disease whose writing and research have been featured in the New York Times, Scientific American, and the Washington Post. She is Assistant Professor of History at Stanford University.