Visual Representations of the Third Plague Pandemic


ERC-funded research project


Visual Representations of the Third Plague Pandemic is an interdisciplinary research project led by social anthropologist, Dr Christos Lynteris. The project is funded by a European Research Council Starting Grant (under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme/ERC grant agreement no 336564). The HI of the project between October 2013 and September 2017 was CRASSH (University of Cambridge). As of October 2017 the project's HI is the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews, with CRASSH remaining a co-beneficiary until the project ends in September 2018.

The project will collect and analyse photographs as well as other visual documents of the third plague pandemic, which broke out in 1855 in Southwest China (Yunnan) and raged across the globe until 1959, causing the death of approximately 12 million people. 

As Yersinia pestis spread from country to country and from continent to continent, it left behind it not only a trail of death and terror, but also a growing visual archive on the first global pandemic to be captured by the photographic lens. Rather however than forming a homogeneous or linear visual narrative, these photographic documents provided diverging perspectives on the pandemic, which, more often than not, were not simply different from region to region, but in fact conflicting within any single locus of infection. 

The project’s hypothesis is that its visual representation played a pivotal role in the formation of both scientific understandings and public perception of infectious disease epidemics in the modern era.

While investigating the visual record of the third plague pandemic in East Asia, South Asia, Africa and the Americas, researchers will engage in a collaborative and interdisciplinary analysis of the entangled history of the visual representation of the pandemic, taking as a common analytical ground four different but vitally interlinked aspects of the visual representation of the pandemic:  

  • The Built Environment
  • Civil Disturbance and Public Order
  • Death, Corpses and Burial
  • Race, Class and Discrimination

For further information on the project, please contact the Plague team or sign up to the project mailing list.

You can view the Visual Representations of the Third Plague Pandemic Photographic Database online and open access now: it is hosted by the Cambridge University Library Repository.

You can also visit the Visual Plague project blog for updates and news about the team's activities.



Principle Investigator

Dr Christos Lynteris, Senior Lecturer, Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews 

CRASSH Post-doctoral Research Associates

Dr. des. Lukas Engelmann (2014 – 2017)
Dr Nicholas Evans (2014 – 2017)
Dr Branwyn Poleykett (2014 - 2018)

St Andrews' Post-doctoral Research Associates

Dr. Maurits Meerwijk (2018)
Dr. Abhijit Sarkar (2018)

Administrative support

CRASSH Samantha Peel
St Andrews Teresa Abaurrea

Advisory Board

Advisory Board

Sam Barzilay, Creative Director, United Photo Industries/Photoville Festival, New York, USA

John Henderson, Professor of Italian Renaissance History, Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, Birkbeck, University of London; Fellow, Wolfson College, University of Cambridge

Frédéric Keck, Director of the Department of Research and Education, Musée du Quai Branly, Paris; Chargé de Recherche, CNRS/ EHESS, Laboratoire d'Anthropologie Sociale.

David Napier, Professor of Medical Anthropology, Department of Social Anthropology, University College London, University of London

The Database

You can view the Visual Representations of the Third Plague Pandemic Photographic Database online and open access now: it is hosted by the Cambridge University Library Repository.

The Visual Representations of the Third Plague Pandemic Photographic Database provides scholars and the general public with a unique visual resource of one of the most important infectious disease pandemics in modern times. Offering rich information on colonial governance, architectural and urban planning intervention, global trade, medical practice and scientific research across the globe, it reveals neglected yet vital aspects of social, economic and political life at the turn of the nineteenth century. Social scientists and historians will be able to access unique new data on the historical development of plague outbreaks and their social and political impacts, as well as on medical, governmental and popular responses to them. Life and medical scientists will be given access to data for historical epidemiological investigations, and for the understanding of the disease ecology of plague. The general public will be able to access for the first time the visual record of a pandemic that changed the course of modern medicine, but which is also generally forgotten today.

You can find more information through the CRASSH blog, where the database launch was announced.