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Teaching with Primary Sources: Yellow Fever in the 18th Century

Brief Overview

In the late 18th century, yellow fever spread quickly in the eastern United States. The disease, although now known to be a mosquito-borne virus, was poorly understood at the time. When major cities, like Philadelphia and New York City, saw large outbreaks of the often deadly disease, local leaders and medical professionals struggled to treat the sick and control the epidemic. Through the lens of 18th century yellow fever epidemics, this module introduces students to multiple types of primary sources, including digitized resources, and provides activities designed to guide the critical analysis of primary sources.

This session includes 2 activities:

  1. Primary source analysis and group discussion.
  2. Digital collections search and document transcription.

Learning Objectives

  • Practice textual and visual analysis using multiple types of primary sources.
  • Discuss the author (creator), audience, and intended purpose of historical documents.
  • Engage with digital collections as primary sources.
  • Develop an understanding of 18th century yellow fever outbreaks and consider how past epidemics relate to those in the present. 

Primary Source Example