Poisons of the Past: Molds, Epidemics, and History

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Yale University Press, 1989 - History - 190 pages
Did food poisoning cause the Black Plague, the Salem witch-hunts, and other significant events in human history? In this pathbreaking book, historian Mary Kilbourne Matossian argues that epidemics, sporadic outbursts of bizarre behavior, and low fertility and high death rates from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries may have been caused by food poisoning from microfungi in bread, the staple food in Europe and America during this period.
"A bold book with a stimulating thesis. Matossian's claims for the role of food poisoning will need to be incorporated into any satisfactory account of past demographic trends."--John Walter, Nature
"Matossian's work is innovative and original, modest and reasoned, and opens a door on our general human past that historians have not only ignored, but often did not even know existed."--William Richardson, Environmental History Review
"This work demonstrates an impressive variety of cross-national sources. Its broad sweep also reveals the importance of the history of agriculture and food and strengthens the view that the shift from the consumption of mold-poisoned rye bread to the potato significantly contributed to an improvement in the mental and physical health of Europeans and Americans."--Naomi Rogers, Journal of American History
"This work is a true botanical-historical tour de force."--Rudolf Schmid, Journal of the International Association of Plant Taxonomy
"Intriguing and lucid."--William K. Beatty, Journal of the American Medical Association

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User Review  - antiquary - LibraryThing

This book argues for an expanded role for ergotism and related diseases in explaining a range of phenomena from the Black Death through the witch hunts to the First Great Awakening and the French ... Read full review


Frontispiece Family of peasants in seventeenthcentury France
List of Figures
Sum of specific death ratios of the eight leading
I9 Summer temperatures in North America and Europe
Ergot and the Salem Witchcraft Affair
The negative supernatural interpretation

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Page 184 - Margaret C. Jacob, The Newtonians and the English Revolution, 1689-1720 (Ithaca, 1976), pp. 135-37. 68 For recent work on Newton, cf. CRS Westfall, The Changing World of the Newtonian Industry', Journal of the History of Ideas 37 (March 1976).
Page 174 - EA Wrigley and RS Schofield, The Population History of England, 1541-1871 (Cambridge, 1981), p.

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