Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Dancing Plague of 1518 & Other Bizarre Historical Epidemics

This is kind of random, but I just heard about this bizarre historical event from a good friend of mine. And I figure, most vintage folks like history beyond just the era they dress in, right? Right? Okay.
So, I won't bother giving a full history of the event, when these articles, from the Discovery Channel and Wikipedia, do it so much better, but here's the general idea: in the summer of 1518, one woman in Strasbourg, France stopped in the streets and began to dance intensely, in a trance - and didn't stop for four to six days! Other people, seemingly overtaken by the same trance, joined her, and within the week 34 others had joined, and in a month, 400 had joined in! Many actually died from the dancing - heart attack, exhaustion, and strokes. At the time doctors proclaimed it was a natural disease caused by "hot blood".
The Discovery Channel article also cites examples of another dancing plague in Madagascar in the 1840s, and the Laughter Epidemic of 1962 (which lasted eighteen months!!).
Life really is stranger than fiction.
- Emily


  1. You need to read Henry Burton's Divine Tragedy. It was the most hilarious reading assignment from my Revolutionary Britain class. Burton was a puritan who decided to prove that having fun on Sunday was against God's wishes, so he wrote out all of these examples of people who had gotten the plague, gotten pregnant or fallen through the ice, etc. while playing around after church. It's available from Early English Books Online (or on microfilm).

  2. Haha, that does sound like a good read! I think its funny that he found getting pregnant equivalent to getting the plague, lol!

    It seems I need a username and password for eeob...? I will keep my eyes peeled for it though, as I may be taking a british history class next semester in england, at least I would be able to ask around for it!

  3. EEOB does require a password, but you should be able to log in through your university's library website. The way OU's site works is that I log in to the library webpage, then search the catalog for Henry Burton, click on the internet holding and the OU website accesses EEBO through a proxy server. It's not as complicated as it sounds! I got really used to using all of those databases as a graduate student.

    It's so cool that you're going to be in England next semester. I expect to see a lot of photos.

    P.S. Thanks for your lovely comments which helped me remember why I do what I do!

  4. I just sent you an e-mail--thought that would be easier!

  5. :DDD Thanks!!! That was really nice of you! I'll have some interesting bedtime reading to do.. I'll really get that switching the "f" for an "s" thing drilled into my mind, lol!
    Also, I can't help but admire his charming modesty - "By that worthy Divine Mr. Henry Burton."