Cattle Plague and Society

Rinderpest, anthrax and epizootic control in the eighteenth century Kingdom of Sweden

Keywords: rinderpest, anthrax, cattle plague, epizootic control, retrospective diagnoses, history of veterinary medicine


This article presents the findings of a study showing that rinderpest and anthrax were rife among cattle in eighteenth century Sweden and Finland. These diseases, which caused a widespread loss of animals, were the scourge of owners, medical practitioners and the authorities alike. The study also shows that the epizootic legislation and disease control that evolved at government level was influenced by the particular characteristics of rinderpest and anthrax. Previous research has identified the endemic nature of rinderpest and its far-reaching consequences for society. Yet major outbreaks of anthrax, and the degree to which the disease influenced the development of State epizootic control, were previously unknown. The study uses the perspectives of cultural history and the history of veterinary medicine, a wide range of historical sources, and a method of text analysis for making retrospective diagnoses.

In this article the findings are compared with the results of studies of eighteenth century cattle disease and epizootic control in other European countries. Similarities and differences in theoretical perspectives and research methods are identified. Here the use of retrospective diagnosis in the history of veterinary medicine is discussed in particular.

Author Biography

Johanna Widenberg, Uppsala University

Johanna Widenberg (b. 1975) is associate professor in history at Uppsala University and municipality archivist in Östhammar, Sweden. Her resarch interests are animal husbandry during early modern times and veterinary medicine from socio-historical and cultural-historical perspectives. The postdoctoral project about the cattle plague in Sweden and Finland during the eighteenth century was conducted at the Division of Agrarian History at the Swedish University for Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala. The main publication from the project, financed by the Swedish Research Council, is the monograph Den stora kreatursdöden (2017).


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