Victorian Plague Town: Quarantines, Hospitals, and the Political Birth of Isolation

Document Type

Book Chapter

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Palgrave Macmillan


By the end of the nineteenth century, the infectious disease hospital was an indispensable institution in British public health practice. This, however, was by no means certain or natural, given the difficult and ambiguous place of the hospital in a medical and political culture generally wary of doctrines of contagion and theories of medical police reminiscent of outmoded, politically unacceptable pest-houses and quarantines. This chapter traces the role of the London Fever Hospital in problematizing and then reassessing contagion as a medical and governmental problem. Among the key figures here are Thomas Southwood Smith and George Buchanan. The “isolation hospital” was birthed only after it could be viewed as an instrument for positive government of urban space and thus separated from the quarantinist model of negative exclusion and eradication.

Chapter of

Contagion, Isolation, and Biopolitics in Victorian London


Matthew L. Newsom Kerr