Yellow Fever in Slave-Owning New Orleans and Covid Today: Symbolic v. Social Capital

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Most of the material in this short post will be quoted from a wonderful article in the American Historical Review, Kathryn Olivarius’s “Immunity, Capital, and Power in Antebellum New Orleans” (2019). I recommend you grab a cup of coffee and read it in full, now or later; the article is gripping and very readable, and offers me, at least, a whole new perspective on the workings of the Slave Power. From the Abstract:

Antebellum New Orleans sat at the heart of America’s slave and cotton kingdoms. But it was also the nation’s “necropolis,” with yellow fever routinely killing about 8 percent of its population. With little epidemiological understanding of mosquito-borne viruses—and meager public health infrastructure—a person’s only protection against the scourge was to “get acclimated”: fall sick with, and survive, yellow fever. About half of all people died in the acclimating process. Repeated epidemics generated a hierarchy of immunocapital whereby “acclimated citizens” (survivors) leveraged their immunity for social, economic, and political power and “unacclimated strangers” (poor recent immigrants) languished in social and professional purgatory. For whites, acclimation was the quintessential demonstration of calculated risk-taking: that people had paid their biological dues, were worthy of investment, and could now justifiably pursue economic advancement in slave racial capitalism. For black slaves, who were embodied capital, immunity enhanced the value and safety of that capital for their white owners, strengthening the set of racialized assumptions about the black body bolstering racial slavery. By fusing health with capitalism, this article presents a new model—beyond the toxic fusion of white supremacy with the flows of global capitalism—for how power operated in nineteenth-century Atlantic society

“Immunocapital” is seen by Olivarius as a “Bourdiesian”[1] “form of capital” (footnote 22). But the article does not delve into those forms, in particular social capital and symbolic capital. The two are often confused, and “immunocapital,” which fortuitously highlights the difference between them, turns out to be an interesting edge case.

First, I’ll expand on the New Orleans economy, yellow fever, and acclimation. After that, I’ll define social capital and symbolic capital, and show that immunocapital is the latter, not the former. Finally, the “rhyme” between Yellow Fever and the current plague will not have escaped the reader, and I will briefly comment on it.

Here is Olivarius on the New Orleans economy when chattel slavery was still a thing:

Recently, historians have situated New Orleans at the heart of “slave racial capitalism,” a system based on the violent commodification of enslaved black people. Despite its fixation on human bodies and environmental manipulation, this new historiography has largely ignored infectious disease, though sickness and death permeate the primary source record.

On this new historiography, see NC here and here). More:

And though it has explored the numerous capitalist calculations made by white Deep Southerners—when, whom, and what to buy and sell; when, whom, and what to borrow against, insure, or collateralize—it has not explored the myriad calculations Deep Southerners made as a direct result of epidemic disease: when to quit the city; when to sell products to minimize disease exposure; how to project confidence to clients, creditors, and vendors during epidemics; who was “safe” to employ, buy from, or partner with. By ignoring disease’s pervasiveness and the randomness of the biological draw, these historians ultimately present an oddly linear vision of capitalist success: that with resolve, intelligence, ruthlessness, and a pinch of luck, all whites possessed the potential for success in slave racial capitalism, and that white people entered a fraught but fundamentally level playing field.

Now comes Yellow Fever:

Disease confounds this narrative. Over 550,000 whites immigrated to New Orleans between 1803 and 1860, hoping to make their fortunes, mostly through the ferocious exploitation of black people, hundreds of thousands of whom were sold at auction.13 The Louisiana Purchase triggered rapid demographic change: the city’s population doubled to 18,000 in 1809 with the influx of Haitian refugees; swelled to 102,000 by 1840 through European, American, and forced black migration; and surpassed 168,000 on the eve of the Civil War. But with mass immigration came crowd diseases—cholera, plague, influenza, consumption, and typhoid. “Yellow Jack” proved to be New Orleans’ most lethal tyrant, routinely eclipsing all other causes of death when it struck, doubling or even tripling the city’s (already high) average death rate. Some whites would become acclimated to yellow fever and accumulate wealth and power. But a large percentage—engulfed by a new microbial reality—ended up in a coffin. White Orleanians understood that social and economic ascent did not depend solely on hard work or black enslavement; first it depended on surviving yellow fever in a region plagued by death.

Spoiler alert: Is anyone else reminded of “lead your life” by “acclimation”? And is it turns out, acclimation as a form of capital can be turned into economic capital:

Immunity, whether real or imagined, had serious implications. It affected where people worked, what they earned, where they lived, and with whom they dealt. It affected white people’s ability to invest capital in slaves and create more capital through slaves. It decisively impacted a person’s ability to find stability, social acceptance, and a political voice. Considering all the impediments faced by the unacclimated, even Dr. Edward Hall Barton, president of New Orleans’ 1841 Board of Health, suggested that “the VALUE OF ACCLIMATION IS WORTH THE RISK!” Most newcomers quickly heeded this wisdom, not avoiding but actively seeking illness as a pathway to profits and respectability. As Connecticut immigrant Ralph Roanoke boasted while convalescent, “Victory had perched upon my banner; I was an acclimated citizen, and as such, received into full favor in the good city of New-Orleans, where they distrust every body, and call them non-residents, until they become endorsed by the yellow fever.”

But “victory” through acclimation was reserved for whites only. Though black immunity and white immunity were (and are) biologically identical, pro-slavery theorists argued that black people’s alleged natural resistance to this disease made their freedom, and independent capitalist participation, “scientifically” untenable. Rather, racial slavery was natural, even humanitarian, distancing whites from labor and spaces that would kill them. For whites, immunity was a prerequisite for citizenship and social advancement; for blacks, immunity increased their monetary value to their owners and strengthened the cycle of racialized assumptions about the black body that bolstered racial slavery. Black people could thus possess immunity, but not immunocapital, an expedient feint of logic that whites used to enrich themselves and reinforce their social and political dominance over blacks.

Antebellum New Orleans was the supercharged center of nineteenth-century yellow fever immunocapital, a major port on the great microbial highway circumnavigating the Atlantic Ocean.

But what form of capital is immunocapital? I proposed two candidates: social capital and symbolic capital. Let us look at each in turn.

First, social capital. From Bourdieu’s glorious Manet[2], which I am nowhere near finishing, pp. 303 et seq.:

Manet’s life may be described as a long accumulation of social capital…. I am not going to give you a rigorous definition of this concept but, in a nutshell, this is what is known as “connections,” along with the set of economic, cultural, and symbolic resources that can be acquired from lasting relationships with the range of agents that hold this capital.

Flexians, for example, are masters at monetizing social capital.

Second, symbolic capital. From Bourdieu’s Forms of Capital, pp. 101 et seq.

Symbolic capital is an authority acknowledged by all, or by the whole of a group. I intend to analyze the kind of social magic, designated by the notion of the performative, that enables certain social agents to use words, orders, or slogans to change the real social world…. In order to account for this magical activity, I must analyze the conditions that combine to constitute this charismatic authority or symbolic power…. Words, being social things, are real things; words are things and do things…. A group begins to exist when it has an acronym or a logo….. Another example which is of capital importance is the title: titles of nobility, academic qualifications, and titles of ownership. The title is the performance par excellence… These titles are evidently objectifications. They exist in the form of paper certificates; they can be framed and hung on the wall, because they are visible objects.

PMC love them their certificates. Now, let’s return to immunocapital. Immunocapital can be transformed into economic capital. Olivarius once more:

Assured of his acclimation, [German immigrant and cotton merchant Vincent] Nolte could leverage his existing capital—whiteness, maleness, business acumen[3]—to acquire economic capital—cash, credit, slaves—with far more certainty. He could gamble ever-greater sums, restart after frequent financial panics, and command the labor of increasing numbers of other people, both black and white. Now confident that Nolte would not drop dead in October, bankers were happier to extend him credit.

Now let’s ask ourselves whether immunocapital is social capital or symbolic capital. Olivarius:

Immunity to yellow fever, ill-understood in the nineteenth century, was euphemized with phrases like “acclimation,” “seasoning,” and “creolization.” Acclimation meant surviving yellow fever, but to have immunocapital, Orleanians had to convince others of their immunity. Immunity was (and is) an objective, biological reality. But before vaccination or diagnostic blood testing, it was invisible and impossible to verify. It was thus subjective and performative, a matter of faith as much as fact. In a city where people routinely classified others based on physical appearance—as a quadroon, griffe, Irishman, bozale—Orleanians were socialized to recognize immunity cues. If a man was creole or had lived in the tropics for multiple years, society generally gave him the benefit of the doubt—he could pass as immune. If he was a newcomer, poor, foreign-born, or a drunk, he was assumed to be “unacclimated” until proven otherwise. As the Irish immigrant and former Georgia congressman Richard Henry Wilde aptly described it shortly before he died from yellow fever in 1847, “no one is regarded an Inhabitant or any thing but a mere Squatter, who has not passed a summer.”

Clearly, immunocapital is not function of “connections” or networking. Hence it is not social capital. Immunicapital is a form of “charismatic authority,” hence symbolic capital, albeit embodied in, well, a body, as opposed to a certificate to be hung on the wall. That’s an interesting result. Bourdieu, above, seems at least at one point to have regarded symbolic capital as a function of social capital; and surely symbolic capital can be accumulated within a network of connections. However, immunocapital is accumulated through infection and survival, not through social capital at all[4], which clarifies that matter. Others — including, apparently, Bourdieu regard symbolic and social capital as different levels of abstraction:

Though, symbolic capital is not situated on the same plane as the other species, since it puts the stress on the “symbolic” dimensions of social life, which creates an asymmetric role. Bourdieu even discusses its existence as a genuine sort of capital and seems to hesitate between the use of this concept and more indirect formulations (like “the symbolic effects of (all sorts of) capital”: Bourdieu, 1997).

In one of the definitions proposed by Bourdieu during the 1980s (Bourdieu, 1987), symbolic capital is, precisely, defined by any other sort of capital when it comes to its “recognition” or its “perception” according to particular “schemes.” As Bourdieu puts it: « symbolic capital is nothing but economic or cultural capital as soon as they are known and recognized, when they are known…

However, immunocapital’s charismatic authority as symbolic capital is standalone; hence, symbolic capital is not necessarily a function of any other form of capital, although it certainly can be. So we have a very interesting edge case. (It would be absurd, for example, to claim that the process of gaining symbolic capital in the form of a wall certificate was not intimately and essentially entwined with the social capital gained through attending the institution that granted the certificate.) And at this point, I must cease my Bourdeusian excursions and ask the Bourdieusians in the readership to correct any errors above.

Now let’s return, very briefly, to the present day. I do not have a theory of how our society, collectively, coped with the Covid pandemic (distressingly poorly, if the avoidance of mass infection is a bad thing). However, there are some suggestive similarities between New Orleans in the 1830s and the America of 2020-2023. To return to Olivarius:

Immunocapital provides a framework for recognizing the additional pressures—destructive and generative—exerted on society by epidemic disease and mass mortality. Indeed, betting on who was immune and who would survive past September added layers of speculation to a society essentially premised on gambling, both for pleasure and for business in commodity futures. Those at the top of New Orleans’ economic and political life, all (allegedly) survivors, obtained a de facto moral legitimacy, a tropical (if ecumenical) twist on Max Weber’s aristocracy of the elect: in their public willingness to roll the epidemiological dice and risk their lives, the immune elite had been endowed with both a practical and a moral right to thrive in slave racial capitalism, a harsh but essentially honest meritocracy.

Anyone else reminded of “personal risk assessment”? Here’s a famous example from Bob Wachter:

Here, Wachter’s world view is “essential premised on gambling” (as one would expect in our financialized society). Further, the calculating the odds is the sort of “homework” the PMC love to do and consider meritorious[5]. “Build your own dashboard,” forsooth!

More interestingly, many of the talking points of Covid minimizers — that is, the entire political class, the hegemonic PMC including many health care personnel, the press, and both political parties — seem to be acting as if, under Covid, immunocapital can be accumulated when, tragically — or karmically — it cannot. For example, “You are protected,” which morphed into “vaxed and done” maps very neatly to “acclimated.” Remember when people debated which vaccine was cooler? Symbolic capital! And of course, being vaxed became, in some cases, a condition of employment. Social capital! Then there is the “refuse to live in fear” trope, an assertion of charismatic authority. Symbolic capital!

Sadly, it’s not possibly to accumulate either social or symbolic capital by being infected with Covid, not even with repeated reinfections. Indeed — our society being what it is — we might speculate that this harsh reality is at the root of Covid minimization (“it’s just the flu”).

More speculatively, one might imagine this harsh reality is at the root of the rage against masking. Maskers are, by avoiding Covid, steadily and incrementally accumulating vascular and neurological advantages over the unmasked and those who accept Covid infection as “natural” (children, as well as adults). This accumulation of potential social capital might be seen as illicit, even a form of cheating, signaled as it is by, well, the symbolic “scarlet letter” of the mask, Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions having been stigmatized by the whole weight of the public health establishment. And why indeed should minimizers in a society as Darwinian as our own tolerate such accumulation, especially when their own attempts failed so very badly?


[1] I make no apology for citing Bourdieu in the context of medical — indeed, PMC — sociology, for which the massive resistance to aerosol transmission forms an promising field of study; see the estimable Trisha Greenhalgh here and here. In addition, we have Bourdieu stans in the readership, and I’ve been asked to return to him. In fact, I regret not having done so earlier.

[2] Yes, I bought some Bourdieu books from the now-vanished Book Depository. Most are out of print, so grab ’em while you can.

[3] I think there are some category or at least typological errors here, but I need to hustle along, so will not look into them.

[4] One might argue that one’s social capital enabled better treatment, hence survival, hence immunocapital. But not in New Orleans in the 1830s; there was no treatment for yellow fever. Hence the mortality rate.

[5] At this point we recall that Wachter chivvied his own wife into attending a writers’ conference that turned out to be a superspreading event. She still has Long Covid. Others prefer to Keep It Simple:

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. John Thurloe

    General Robert Lee discounted the ability of northern Union forces to survive in the disease infested south with its heat and humidity. He was wrong. The notherners were in better fettle, were better fed and they kept moving around which favoured sanitation. The sweet potato, corn and pig diet of the south debilitated the population. Plus, alcohol consumption widespread across the south made every possible communicable disease much worse. And, the south had virtually no medical services of any sort. When you eat crap and drink yourself stupid it’s not any kind of pathogen that’s responsible.

    1. Carolinian

      What the article describes not confined to New Orleans of course Brit younger sons sent off to India for queen and country had huge tropical disease mortality and same with Africa. Most of the first Jamestown colonizers died of disease and the supposed immunity of Africans was one of the big rationales for black slavery to replace white indentured servants. Here in SC the coastal plantation owners would go north for the summers and let the overseers run things. We still have a huge crush of mosquitoes btw, just no yellow jack.

      The above is talking about moral implications but perhaps in more practical ways climate is destiny. And re the Civil War, I’ve read that disease killed more than bullets on both sides.

      1. Jason Boxman

        Disease seems generally to kill more soldiers than war does. See the great flu pandemic of 1918 for much more on this. The military is into disease mitigation.

        1. JBird4049

          Disease did kill more soldiers than bullets during the Civil War, but it also killed more civilians as the roaming disease factories call armies that were smashing everything and having masses of soldiers, wounded, prisoners, and camp followers created massive, national epidemics.

          The totals from the Civil War kept rising as not only do researchers have decades crawling through all the records in all the states, cities, towns, and villages, they also expanded their search to people who often died years, even decades, directly from their injuries, and they not only looked at the military deaths from disease to the oversized national epidemics occurring from the war. It looks like everywhere that they looked, researchers kept finding more masses of the dead directly caused by the war.

          It makes me think of Covid. Very few people even got close to predicting the numbers of dead, injured, and crippled from that war. At least I have read of nobody giving any predictions at all close in over forty years with many people drastically undercounting it. The people who think they can control a war are the same sorts of people that think they can control a disease. A splendid little pandemic?

      2. LifelongLib

        IIRC 2/3 of soldier deaths in the U.S. Civil War were from various diseases. In WW1 about half of U.S. soldier deaths were from non-combat causes, with flu causing a large percentage.

      3. vao

        Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies, was infamous amongst colonials for being insalubrious because of all the tropical fevers.

        In Africa, the big killer that frightened colonials and natives alike, was sleeping sickness (completely untreatable till the 1920s, and then only with drugs entailing awful side-effects, and no immunity is possible against it). It did not help that colonial practices contributed to spreading more widely the range of the trypanosomes responsible for sleeping sickness.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      Interesting though this is, it’s simply not on point for the post. Please re-read, or read, the post and focus on the key word “immunocapital.” The topic of the post is not Southern v. Northern dietary practices.

  2. Adam Eran

    Michael Mann’s books about how Europeans settled the new world (1491 and 1493) say that old world diseases–yellow fever, malaria and even measles–decimated the population of the New World. There were certainly wars on the natives, but disease accounted for the bulk of the deaths. The estimate is that 90% of the natives perished in a place that was possibly more populous than Europe. For a comparison, the Irish potato famine wiped out an estimated 35 – 40% of Ireland’s population. No wonder Indians want to un-celebrate Columbus day!

    Africans, on the other hand, had at least some immunity from these diseases. Apparently yellow fever is like chicken pox in Africa. Children get a mild form of the disease and are subsequently immunity.

    The areas where slavery thrived and was essential were the same as the range for the yellow fever vector (mosquitos)–from the northern border of Argentina to the Mason-Dixon line. One might even conclude that the success of the Haitian slave revolt occurred because Napoleon’s soldiers got too sick to fight.

    One other bit of business: Slaves do not care for the soil. Farming on the Italian peninsula before the “success” of the Roman empire in subjugating so much of the Mediterranean was a fairly sustainable kind of permaculture. After the slaves–the Roman Empire’s captives–started working Italian farms, the soils played out. This is why foodstuffs from North Africa were essential to feeding the Roman public. When the Visigoths invaded the Iberian peninsula, then North Africa, they cut off that food supply, and the Empire fell soon after.

    In the American South, it was common knowledge that cotton and slaves destroyed soil fertility–something that later inspired George Washington Carver to promote peanuts rather than cotton. Rather than sustainable agriculture, plantations practiced soil mining and extraction.

    One proximate cause of the Civil War was those southerners’ insistence that new Western territories permit slave holding because they knew they would deplete the soil they farmed and would need new fields.

    Cotton farming was so profitable that I’ve read there were more millionaires per capita in Mississippi than in New York. People died protecting the plutocrats’ profits.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > One proximate cause of the Civil War was those southerners’ insistence that new Western territories permit slave holding because they knew they would deplete the soil they farmed and would need new fields.

      Assuming the slaveholders were telling the truth about their motivations. IIRC, the question of slavery and soil depletion is a disputed one. Certainly many slaveholders were fervent agriculturalists; there were journals to which they subscribed. I would also want the effects of cotton distinguished from those of tobacco (which IIRC is much, much worse).

      1. spud
        Soil Erosion
        Original entry by
        Stanley W. Trimble, University of California, Los Angeles,
        R. Harold Brown, University of Georgia,
        Last edited by NGE Staff on 03/10/2015

        “The worst environmental disaster Georgia has ever suffered was the washing away of its topsoil. Most Georgians do not realize that the land, especially in the Piedmont, has lost much of its productivity to erosion. Early in the twentieth century nearly 10 million acres were in cultivated row crops, and much of that land was losing soil in every rain. The Piedmont lost an average of about seven inches of its topsoil, but in many places all of it was lost. The resulting red hills were both the evidence and the heritage of generations of land mismanagement. In southwest Georgia spectacular gullies, such as Providence Canyon, permanently ruined much of the land for farming. “

  3. Henry Moon Pie

    Thanks for this, Lambert. You managed to find the logic beneath what has seemed to me the irrational phenomenon of anti-masking. Maybe what’s going through the mind of someone who glares at a mask wearer is, “What makes you so special?”

    1. GramSci

      I wish it could simply be put down to envy, but I fear too large a fraction of glarers are motivated by an “instinct” to prey upon the weak. I quote “instinct” because I think it is ultimately no more exotic or mysterious than plain ol’ testosterone. Carnivores and “social” animals, especially, seem to get a T-rush from preying upon the weak.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        > prey upon the weak

        That’s what I said, except in distinctively human terms, for society as we have organized it:

        Maskers are, by avoiding Covid, steadily and incrementally accumulating vascular and neurological advantages over the unmasked… Why indeed should minimizers in a society as Darwinian as our own tolerate such accumulation, especially when their own attempts failed so very badly?

        1. ChrisRUEcon

          Was it here that I saw the tweet about a group of Wall St folks furiously masking, not socializing and eating takeout because they absolutely understand what is going to happen and want to capitalize on any “mass disabling effect”?

          If not, I’ll try to find it again to share. I placed credence in it because I know there were plenty folks who left NYC and got high speed lines installed after 9/11. Once was enough. Same (type of) people, I suspect.

    2. Carolinian

      Guess it’s a Southern thing because I don’t get glared at and if I did I would assume it’s because they think I’m only wearing a mask because I might infect them.

      Around here hardly anyone wears a mask any more and I don’t always either. Some stores are especially crowded so what the hay? If they did glare I wouldn’t care.

      Should also add that we’ve had a horrific hay fever season so lots of reason to wear a mask for that.

        1. Late Introvert

          I’m in the Midwest and I have had zero problems but it’s a college town and has a tolerant vibe.

          Thanks Lambert, great article and while Bourdieu is probably too much in book form for me, your teasing out of the ideas is very well done.

  4. Daniil Adamov

    Very interesting on all counts! I do remember the eventual US South being remarkably disease-ridden and cavalier about death, from Albion’s Seed. New Orleans sounds like it may have been even worse.

    Also, thank you for those definitions of social and symbolic capital. While I think I would’ve had more or less the right idea of what was meant, it still helps to have them to hand. They definitely seem to apply well in this case. Agreed about vaccination being a source of symbolic capital today in this sense, and in a similar way to acclimation. Though I think the residents of New Orleans were more self-aware or honest about that.

  5. DJG, Reality Czar

    Fascinating. I cannot find a definition of the racial classifications that Oliverius uses “griffe” and “bozale.” Doesn’t anyone recognize them?

    Further, from the underlying article, which has even more juicy details, as Lambert Strether noted:

    ‘Not until the devastating epidemic of 1878, following years of postwar economic depression and stagnant immigration, did “the cupidity of commercial men” wane and a new attitude that “Public Health is Public Wealth” spur the government to reliably drain streets and implement quarantines.125 But such progress was for a later generation. Instead, as one health reformer noted in 1844, antebellum medical authorities “immolate[d] hundreds and thousands of victims annually upon the altar of a blind incredulity.”126’

    And there’s this:

    ‘An editor explained that as “the principal profit” of newspapers stemmed from mercantile advertisements, their “principal customers,” the merchants, “had absolutely forbid the least notice of fever, under a threat that their custom should otherwise be withdrawn.”132 Novelist George Washington Cable agreed, arguing, “The merchants, both Creole and American, saw only the momentary inconveniences” of quarantines; thus “the . . . press, in bondage to the merchant through its advertising columns, carped and caviled in two languages” against sanitation while expanding on “the filthiness of other cities.”133’

    Which makes me recall the curious panic in the U.S. press about the “plandemic” or, more politely, the escaped human-made virus of Wuhan.

    1. DJG, Reality Czar

      Excellent endnotes, too. Of course, note 41:

      “Contemporary debates about the origin and contagiousness of yellow fever were fraught, especially as they related to the efficacy of quarantine. See …”

      But, wait, don’t we all know that there were never quarantines in the U S of A till Covid?

  6. DJG, Reality Czar

    Excellent endnotes, too. Of course, note 41:

    “Contemporary debates about the origin and contagiousness of yellow fever were fraught, especially as they related to the efficacy of quarantine. See …”

    But, wait, don’t we all know that there were never quarantines in the U S of A till Covid?

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Excellent endnotes, too

      This is an excellent, insightful, above all scholarly article. No wonder university administrators are trying to get rid of history departments, indeed, history as a discipline.

  7. MaryLand

    One thing I have noticed is that someone I’m talking with is “reassured” when they learn I have had Covid. I believe I had it in March of 2020 when there was as yet no testing available and indeed not much commonly known about Covid. It’s almost as though they would be offended if I haven’t had it “yet.” Since I am a member of the club I am accepted. So they tolerate my masking and other precautions a bit more.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > ” Since I am a member of the club I am accepted.

      I couldn’t work this in, but yes:

      Orleanians described acclimation as like being reborn. As the Daily Delta declared in 1853, the acclimated man walked the streets with a “tremendously bold swagger,” sneering at the unacclimated, who darted about “timidly and nervously.” The acclimated “pooh pooh[ed]” yellow fever and called it a “mere nothing”; rather, it was a “pleasure” to have it, as it resulted “in such a splendid appetite when you get over it.” The Picayune described convalescents who “only a week or two ago [were] glad to be able . . . to take gruel and lemonade” and now were supposedly going “to the lake for a fish dinner . . . quarrel[ling] about what brand of claret is best.” This “spunky set of fellows” now bragged, “What do I care for the yellow fever?”81 Later, Orleanians would boast of the year of their acclimation—’17, ’33, ’49—like a membership badge in an invisible fraternity of survivors. Some would even celebrate their acclimations like an anniversary with a yearly feast.82 Above all, as Barton put it, newly acclimated men relished that they could now expect “additional compensation, for the additional risk run!”

      1. JohnnyGL

        That arrogance and condescension towards others who haven’t gotten through the experience reminds me somewhat of how former smokers often look down upon current smokers, as former Mayor of NYC, Mike Bloomberg famously did. Obama is a former smoker, too. Both very snobbish people who were quite comfortable looking down on the lower classes.

        I’m sort of wrestling with the above concept, but it seems more of a class-marker than than symbolic capital.

        The vaccination cards that became SOOOO important in the latter half of 2020 (and have thankfully rapidly faded from memory) were more like the symbolic capital that you get from a university degree. A stamp of approval that you’ve passed inspection.

        For me, I went to college far from where I currently live, so I don’t get the social capital of having an alumni network. But, I do get the symbolic capital of the school’s reputation.

        Thanks for the article and write up, it’s an interesting concept.

      2. MaryLand

        It’s funny, they seem to wish I had gotten an official diagnosis of covid. It’s like they suspect me of passing off my illness as Covid to get the “cred.”

        And thanks very much, Lambert, for parsing some of Bourdieu for us!

      3. Diogenes

        I’m confused.

        Isn’t that in direct contradiction to what you wrote? (i.e., “Sadly, it’s not possibly to accumulate either social or symbolic capital by being infected with Covid, not even with repeated reinfections. Indeed — our society being what it is — we might speculate that this harsh reality is at the root of Covid minimization (“it’s just the flu”).)

  8. John Zelnicker

    Fascinating, Lambert.

    Mobile also had yellow fever to contend with as the geography and weather is quite similar to New Orleans. In the old Magnolia Cemetery there are sections where you can see the bad years of yellow fever by the dates on children’s tombstones.

    The city in the first half of the 19th century was confined to the lowlands on the west side of Mobile Bay. To the west of the city proper was Wragg Swamp, a massive breeding ground for mosquitoes, and west of that was Spring Hill, rising to about 200 feet above sea level. (My house is on the top of that hill.)

    During the yellow fever epidemics those who were able would flee the city to the heights of Spring Hill where there were fewer mosquitoes.

    Fun fact: William Gorgas, whose work in suppressing the mosquito population in Panama was instrumental in the building of the Panama Canal, was born in Mobile.

    Building on the work of Carlos Finlay and Walter Reed (yes, that Walter Reed) he proved the method of transmission of yellow fever by mosquitoes. By draining swamps and quarantining the infected or exposed, he was able to reduce the death toll in Havana from several hundred to zero within one year.

  9. ChrisRUEcon

    Great analysis! I’ll have to set aside some time for the full article linked at the start.

  10. Nando Alvarez-Perez

    Sorry for a long quote, but I’m reminded of a short bit from Heart of Darkness:

    “He was a common trader, from his youth
    up employed in these parts—nothing more. He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. That
    was it! Uneasiness. Not a definite mistrust—just uneasiness—nothing more. You have no idea how effective such a . . . a . . . faculty can be. He had no genius for organizing, for initiative, or for order even. That was evident in such things as the deplorable state of the station. He had no learning, and no intelligence. His position had come to
    him—why? Perhaps because he was never ill . . . He had served three terms of three years out there . . . Because triumphant health in the
    general rout of constitutions is a kind of power in itself. When he went home on leave he rioted on a large scale—pompously. Jack ashore—with
    a difference—in externals only. This one could gather from his casual talk. He originated nothing, he could keep the routine going—that’s
    all. But he was great. He was great by this little thing that it was impossible to tell what could control such a man. He never gave that
    secret away. Perhaps there was nothing within him. Such a suspicion made one pause—for out there there were no external checks. Once when
    various tropical diseases had laid low almost every ‘agent’ in the station, he was heard to say, ‘Men who come out here should have no entrails.’ He sealed the utterance with that smile of his, as though it had been a door opening into a darkness he had in his keeping.”

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