Season 4 | Episode 2
May 20, 2020

An unequal history of quarantines

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Long gone are the days of the government sending your family fennel sausage, cheese and wine to make it through.

The term “quarantine” dates back centuries, but as long as there’s been such a thing as quarantine, each person’s experience under it has depended largely on their economic status.

An illustration from "A Tragedy of the Great Plague of Milan in 1630" by Robert Fletcher (Courtesy: The Internet Archive)
An illustration from “A Tragedy of the Great Plague of Milan in 1630” by Robert Fletcher (Courtesy: The Internet Archive)

On this week’s show, we take a tour of quarantines through history, from the bubonic plague outbreaks in 14th and 17th century Italy, to the a typhoid outbreak in New York in the early 1900s and a few other stops along the way. Those quarantines looked very different if you were, say, an immigrant, or a Jewish textile merchant, or a sex worker. 

Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic shine a spotlight on all the inequalities already lurking in the system, and ideas of what the government owes to people in quarantine have changed over the centuries too. Long gone are the days of the government sending your family fennel sausage, cheese and wine to make it through.

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The team

Krissy Clark Host and Senior Correspondent
Caitlin Esch Senior Producer
Peter Balonon-Rosen Associate Producer
Tony Wagner Digital Producer
Catherine Winter Senior Editor
Chris Julin Producer