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) and will run from October 2013 to 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.


Principle Investigator

Dr Christos Lynteris, Senior Research Associate, CRASSH 

Post-doctoral Research Associates

Dr. des. Lukas Engelmann
Dr Nicholas Evans
Dr Branwyn Poleykett

Administrative support

Ms Emma Hacking

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