If you find yourself tempted to bring your sick kid to daycare, or to slip off to the movies with the flu, here's a story to stiffen your commitment to the social contract. In September 1665 the bubonic plague arrived in the village of Eyam, central England. Terrified residents made plans to flee but two local clergymen intervened: It's your Christian duty, they preached, to stay here and not spread the disease. So, for 14-months, Eyam barricaded itself from the rest of the world and let the plague rage.
Eyam's story was the basis for Geraldine Brooks's 2008 novel Year of Wonders and also the subject of a documentary from Big Baby Productions recently promoted on the medical history blog The Chirurgeon's Apprentice. As you'll see in the trailer (below), the outcome was grim.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.