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Cholera and the Broad Street Pump

You are Frederick Crane

Faction: Anti-contagionist
Ideological Reference: James Kay-Shuttleworth

You are Senior Churchwarden of the Vestry of St. James, Westminster, and you chair this special Sanitary Committee. Once the Clerk, Mr. Buzzard, calls the meeting to order and completes a roll call, you will give a short speech summarizing the goals of this meeting and then call on Board members one by one to express their views. Assert your belief in the philosophies of Kay-Shuttleworth and Friedrich Engels.


You are a member of the special Sanitary Committee of the Board of Governors and Directors of the Poor of St. James Parish. On 14 August 1854, you and your colleagues on the General Board of Governors and Directors of the Poor voted to forgo standard meeting protocols and form this special emergency response committee to address any threat of Malignant Cholera throughout the parish. Collectively, you wield the power and financial backing to make whatever arrangements you deem necessary regarding administrative courses of action, medical responses, future meetings, etc.


•    Chapter 1 of The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson (2006).
•    Chapters 2 and 10 of Disease Maps: Epidemics on the Ground by Tom Koch (2011).
•    Anticontagionism between 1821 and 1867 by Erwin Ackerknecht (1948).


YOU ARE IN THE “Anti-contagionist” FACTION.

You and the other Anti-contagionist members of the Board believe that the Cholera outbreak may be explained by a number of factors, including: classic Hippocratic epidemic constitution, atmospheric influences, elevation above sea level, miasma arising from exposure to decaying animal or vegetable matter, diet, lifestyle and socioeconomic status.

The Contagionist members of the Board believe that Cholera is transmitted by the direct passage of some chemical, physical or biological agent originating from a sick person and transmitted to a susceptible victim by contact or fomites or, for a relatively short distance, through the atmosphere.

The Indeterminate members of the Board do not have fixed opinions as to the origins of Cholera. As such, sound scientific arguments made by members of the other factions may sway the opinion of these Board members.

PLEASE NOTE: Although you and your faction colleagues may agree as to the general Anti-contagionist notions of disease, your specific beliefs may be quite  different. Over the course of our debate, and even outside of class, you may (and should) consult with one another to identify those issues upon which you can agree as  well as those upon which you disagree. For the purposes of final voting on any measures of remediation and prevention, some degree of consensus is required; it is particularly clear that you cannot advance the Anti-contagionist agenda without soliciting the support of other, dissenting Board members. So, it will be important to develop arguments that will be convincing to Indeterminate Board members, whose votes will allow you to champion your own beliefs. Once you learn who are the Indeterminates, wisely use you time during the debate sessions and outside of class, via emails and in person as necessary, to compel them to join your cause.

SPECIFIC INSTRUCTIONS: The format of the meeting is divided into two class sessions. For Session I, you will prepare a short (< 1 page) written statement that introduces your character and your ideologies on Cholera. You will deliver this statement as a speech of roughly 1-2 minutes, detailing your position and making specific suggestions that can be debated and brought to a vote in Session II. You should address three questions: What is the source of the outbreak? How is Cholera communicated from person to person? And, what steps should be taken to contain the outbreak?



The Special Committee convenes on the evening of Thursday, 7 September 1854. The Clerk of the Committee, George Buzzard, will call the meeting to order and hand over direction to you and Junior Churchwarden Thomas Henry Rice. Throughout this meeting, you have the responsibility of allowing each member 1-2 minutes to present a prepared statement. After all statements are read, you will allow Board members to confer and then entertain any proposals for later debate and voting in Class Session II.


Between the two class sessions, Dr. John Snow requested to be heard by the Board and has testified that the Cholera outbreak is being driven by contaminated water originating from the pump located on Broad Street. He has recommended that the Board remove the handle from the Broad Street pump immediately, so as to interrupt public access to what he considers as a tainted water supply. In preparation for Session II, use the online Cholera Data Manager to examine closely the data upon which Dr. Snow bases his arguments. Also consult Dr. Snow’s map and the accompanying Excel spreadsheets to conduct your own analyses of these data and raise further questions and/or support for your arguments. You should also examine William Farr’s data and figures and utilize them similarly.


Whenever necessary, you will argue strongly that disease and social conditions are intimately connected, echoing the opinions of Kay-Shuttleworth and Engels. You will question the utility of removing the pump handle from the Broad Street pump when social reform is the true necessity. You will also point out the inconvenience that this will cause to Parish residents that frequent that pump for water. Be prepared to finalize any voting no later than 10 minutes before the end of this session.

“Anti-contagionist” FACTION STRATEGY

Your faction, the Anti-contagionists, will likely vote against Dr. Snow’s recommendation, but you may be swayed by any strong arguments or data that are presented. Consider the different perspectives of Kay-Shuttleworth, Engels, Thomas Sydenham, T. Southwood Smith, William Farr and the Rev. Henry Whitehead (from internet sources and fellow Board members). You support any remedial or preventive measure that was widely in use at the time (e.g. the use of chlorine or chloride of lime for washing). You are also in favor of persistent communication with Parish residents about the virtues of pure air, cleanliness of person, of house and of premises, and temperance with respect to the consumption of spirituous liquors. You should endorse that the Board recirculate among Parish residents handbills with language to this effect. In your arguments, make references to existing language in the draft handbill that has been circulated among Board members and suggest any changes to the handbill language that you feel are warranted.

To earn bonus credit for this role-playing activity, you must also achieve your secret objective:

Have the Board vote in favor of 1) the immediate and widespread Limewashing of all houses, privies and streets and 2) including language in handbills encouraging the working classes to pursue shorter working hours and to better themselves through education.