Blog Post

19th-Century Caribbean Cholera Timemap

19th-Century Caribbean Cholera Timemap

As the current Research Assistant at the Duke Haiti Lab (within the Franklin Humanities Institute), I'd like to present the finished product of one of the collaborative projects: the 19th-century Caribbean Cholera Timemap (

This is the group effort led by Haiti Lab co-director Deborah Jenson and made possible with the support of faculty affiliate Victoria Szabo and a group of undergraduate students. 

This digital and interactive project identifies 3 major Caribbean outbreaks: 1833-1834; 1850-1856; 1865-1872.  Users can click on the points located along the timeline or on the map to read journalistic excerpts on how each region was affected by the disease, e.g. according to an 1833 excerpt from Gazette Médical de Paris, "Cholera Morbus broke out in Havana on Feb. 26, 1833, and lasted until April 20th. During these two months it carried away 8,253 people, or an eighth of the population."  Other news sources cited by the timemap include Salem Gazette and New York Spectator.

Apart from the journalistic summaries, another feature of the timemap is the scrollable timeline, broken down by year and month, that users can click on and drag across to visualize the duration of cholera in each area.  An example would be cholera in Jamaica, which lasted from Apr 28, 1854 to Sep 20, 1854.

The last thing I'll highlight here about the timemap is "Zoom: 1833 Havana" (image on the left).  This focuses on the specific      city of Havana, Cuba and contains statistics on mortality according to particular neighborhoods.  This zoomed-in visualization is achieved by overlaying a historic map of Havana onto a Google map, with the use of Google Earth.  Clicking on "summary statistics," users will find more extensive data on mortality broken down by male versus female, slave versus free, white versus non-white.






A more extensive article on Caribbean cholera in the 19th century is published by the Center of Disease Control, in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal.  You can access the article here:



How has no one commented on this yet? This is incredible.

I'd be interested to know how this might tie into other accounts of cholera outbreaks in the region during the nineteenth century. Some work has been done by enterprising 18thC scholars on Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), attempting to correlate it with the actual events of 1665, and comparing it with Pepys's diary. Is the Haiti lab at all interested in the way intertextual accounts of these events might inform such a mapping effort? I'm particularly thinking of fictional accounts, but non-fictional/scholarly accounts would be interesting as well.

Speaking of which, I very much liked the way primary newspaper and letter accounts were linked in to the maps. A teriffic merging of the potential of digital maps with research.


Congratulations on this excellent and exciting project!

Kyle, I agree with you -- it'd be interesting to line up and/or map out the print circulation of cholera reporting/writing in both newspapers and books. Could we spot a circulatory pattern that grows in some interesting relation to the contagion? Or might we notice a new circulation between colony and metropole (especially if you're looking at French newspapers)? 

But until then, congratulations on a beautiful mapping project!



Thanks for stopping by!  Thanks also for the suggestion of that added intertextuality with works of fiction.

As for the circulation of the contagion, what we did notice was that Haiti seemed to be curiously exempt from the cholera outbreak in the 19th-century Carribean, which definitely sparks some interesting speculations.