The Network


The Quarantine Studies network has been set up to bring together historians and social scientists from across Europe and the Mediterranean with different perspectives, historiographies, and approaches to promote the study of quarantine, taken in its broader, multifaceted practices and significance.
As a network of scholars we seek to motivate research in order to be able to critically re-evaluate and reinvigorate this field of study, and to present fresh theoretical perspectives. Original research which encompasses all geographical regions of the world and embracing a time frame which goes back to the Middle Ages is encouraged.

The transnational composition of the scholars participating in this project allows for a new critical and contrasting re-appraisal of numerous issues pertaining to this topic and the presentation of alternative views and approaches to the study of Quarantine.

Research Project

Quarantine has re-emerged from a sort of historical relic – interesting to a few historians –into the limelight of current affairs and thus posing numerous questions with some urgency. This is happening in connection with both international inter-state strategies to control the rapid spread of recent global epidemics but also in parallel with endeavours to assist, monitor, and channel the extraordinary flows of so called ‘irregular’ immigrants (including economic and political refugees) on major sea and terrestrial routes and crossing borders.

Surfacing as a foremost topic of scholarly relevance and research potential – quarantine/detention is now more than ever immediately coupled with discussions of inter-state border politics and territorial sovereignty, regional demographic pressures, uneven development and social inequality, while triggering multilevel humanitarian concerns. As much so, ‘quarantine’ is also associated with and is used by the state to engender collective fears, from the spread of contagious disease to social disorder through the infiltration of ‘alien’ flows and thus to censure, and keep the status quo.

Certainly, most of the issues characterising, or brought about by quarantine in different times and geographical locations have re-emerged at the present with added complexity and urgency provoking a thirst for greater understanding on the matter. Hence the resurfacing of the debate/conflict between concerns for individual freedom of movement and the need for protection of the general public health (and related social, political, ethical theses on the functions of quarantine: e.g. surveillance, tracking and detention) has again gained popularity as an issue on the agenda of the EU.

It was from these contemporary concerns that the Quarantine Studies project has been established and launched, having as one of its main objectives to study in as wide historical and geographical perspective as possible the historical evolution and multifaceted social, political, cultural, public health/epidemiological dimensions of Quarantine. For this reason, quarantine institutions and practices are taken in their complexity and diversity – as formal institutions, semi-formal and informal practices – and in their interconnections and overlapping in differing geographical circumstances and cultures, linked with attempts to stop or at least mitigate contagious disease at local, regional and global levels and in different historical epochs (from plague to cholera, yellow fever to small pox and the Spanish flu and more recently with SARS outbreak of 2003 or the influenza such as the (A (H1N1) pdmO9 pandemics of 2009).

Quarantine – the word comes from quaranta deriving from the forty days which vessels and crews were required to spend in isolation before disembarking – has historically been dealt with as embodied in one formal institution, the Lazaretto, which was established in the fourteenth century, and put into practice for the first time in Dubrovnik by Venice – followed by Genoa – and from then onwards spread to other zones in the Mediterranean and beyond. In due course, lazaretto systems became more sophisticated (with legislation, regulations and sanitary practices), with the state playing an increasingly crucial role in their functioning both as a border prophylactic against the infiltration of contagious disease, and as an instrument of social management.

Lazarettos have been shaped as state institutions with their own administrative structures and routine regulative operations – including control and direction of shipping and commercial exchange practices (thus the use of bills of health and the holding and fumigation of merchandize). Yet these establishments also carried a tradition of state charity and humanitarian interest, being historically a ‘public charity’ as immediately noticeable with their early configuration as ‘Lazarethum’ (or Nazarethum): a place of seclusion and restriction of suspected or contagious persons, isolated from the urban centres. From then onwards, in most cases, quarantine has basically held the same function, being utilised as enclosed spaces and as public health, medical and social/behavioural laboratories for the detainment, observation/ surveillance of persons – but also of animals and plants – on border zones.

With the emergence of nation-states, quarantine would become an integral part and symbol of the physical territorial national frontiers and hence its becoming intimately linked with politico-economic issues (including the delineation of national markets, state legislation and regulatory checks and arrests on persons/groups defined as ‘alien’ on crossing the borders. By the nineteenth century other practices and devices of quarantine came also to be added to the basic infrastructures as part of their use by European colonial powers to cater for informal colonial expansion and imperial acquisition of non-European territories. Quarantine came therefore to be linked to the geopolitical projections of the European powers.

Quarantine therefore came to be employed to define ‘national’ and ‘European imperial frontiers’ and the separation of people. As increasingly regulative institutions they also came to function as ‘transformers’ and as locations for the cultural construction of the ‘Other’ (as for instance with regard to Muslim pilgrims passing through them on the major routes to the Mecca). But they also came to be transformed into sites of connectivity, of encounters by people from different cultures and countries/ethnicities, as sites of translation, conversion, and negotiation as much as contestation and intimacy.

The following are some areas of research forming key axes of this Quarantine Studies research project:

Quarantine and the State throughout history in Europe, the Mediterranean and beyond. Comparative investigations of quarantine systems including the development of the “English system” (sanitary movement and anti-quarantine regulations). The balance and tensions between quarantine as “modern” structure (self-designed or imposed) of collective health protection in a number of Mediterranean countries lacking comprehensive state public health administrations and specialized medical personnel and “backward” scheme preventing those very developments. Ensuing medical/public health theories and practices, epidemiological controversies (contagionism/anti-contagionism) and pro/anti Quarantine parties. Evolution in the 20th century to date and ‘new’ quarantine operations and procedures.

Quarantine as source of territorial/spatial organization: border definition (Lazarettos as border-signaling) and the construction of national states and markets. Parallelisms between quarantine administration, provincial and military divisions, railway and route networks, etc. Lazarettos: spatial organisation, urban planning and architecture.

Quarantines as international networking: the history of the International Sanitary Conferences, the International Sanitary Councils and Boards of health. This also involves ‘quarantine’ aspects of modernization as Westernization and links with European colonial and imperial expansion; transnational networking; quarantine as links for the gathering/construction/archiving of knowledge in the European metropolis.

Institutions and technologies: quarantines as prophylactic devices/technologies and measures. Types of quarantine: formal/semi-formal/informal. From Lazarettos to cordon sanitaires to quarantine/infection hospitals to ‘makeshift quarantines’ (houses, neighbourhoods and whole communities declared as coming ‘under quarantine’). Quarantines as public health centres and laboratories: legislation, infrastructures, corps of physicians. Setting up of medical and sanitary practices, use of instruments and hence quarantine as an experimental zone (medical, sanitationist and military) and as medical, health and behavioral laboratories in connection with persons, animals and flora. The interface between military and quarantine measures and practices. Quarantine as the core zone of contestation in the epidemiological and medical dialogue/controversies.

The human experience of quarantine: restrictions, channelling and tracking of movement (individual and collective) especially across boundaries; management of labour flows; in travel and Migration (seasonal, permanent, circular type of migration movement), as labour (agriculture, fishing), tourism and shipping (private/corporate interests) including the connections with navigation companies (Austrian Lloyd, Paquet, Southampton, etc.) and other human transport technologies.

Quarantine and the pilgrimages to Mecca and other religious landmarks. The “twin infection”: pan-Islamism and cholera (19th century), strategies for containing the spread of both. Disease metaphors for politics; political metaphors for disease. Pilgrimage and plague in colonial Islamic settings (20th century): Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya. Plague as expression of European intervention, of Islamic modernization and reform. Plague as expression of isolation from traditional links within the wider Islamic world. Comparison with views and actual setting up of ‘quarantines’ for the Christian and Jewish pilgrimages to Palestine. Non-Western views on contagion and Quarantine. Quarantines as sites for the social and cultural construction of ‘The Other’; marginalization of underprivileged groups and minorities (Jews, Muslims, Roma people as ‘carriers of disease’) and the ‘legitimizing of stereotyping and social intolerance.

Quarantine and the human body: experiences of enclosure/detention; fumigation, clinical observation, ventilation and cleanliness, physical tests, and daily routines including diet in the various forms of quarantine. The emotional level involved, individual and collective. Age, sexuality/ sexual orientation and gender, social class, ethnicity and ‘race’ in terms of vulnerability and unequal treatment under quarantine; the ‘quarantined bodies’ senses (smell, taste and touch).

Memories and representation of quarantines: Sites of memory and heritage/archeology: lazarettos, hospitals, cemeteries, etc. Experiences of quarantine in writing/literature (e.g. Albert Camus La peste ; Fereydoun Hoveyda Les quarantaines; J.M. LeClézio La quarantaine; Jacqueline Harpman En quarantaine), and travel accounts as well as the visual arts and popular religious iconography/art.

Quarantine and wider society: state strategies to combat the spread of contagion but also to extend/deepen social and political control by quarantine – including military/policing impositions of control, segregation and sanitization. Quarantine procedures and state of emergencies. The continuous debate/conflict between proponents of ‘individual freedom’ and the keeping of public health through state interventions. Social panic and the sense of collective security; quarantine. Quarantine and forms of social resistance – riot/rebellion. Present-day strategies of quarantine: continuities and ruptures (including present debate on EU migration detention in the Mediterranean and eastern borders).