In 1719, a highly infectious disease swept through the silver mining city of Potosí, Bolivia, killing between a third and a half of its inhabitants, most of them Indigenous Andeans. The gran peste, as it was called, had begun in mid-1717 in Buenos Aires - contemporaries blamed it on English slavers - and would continue north from Potosí to devastate Cuzco and Arequipa, Peru, in 1720, dissipating only in 1722. This presentation relies on eyewitness accounts and other documents to place this excruciating episode in local, regional, and global contexts. It also offers tentative comparisons with the Great Marseille Plague of 1720, word of which arrived in South America just as the gran peste died out.
Kris Lane, France V. Scholes Chair in Colonial Latin American History at Tulane University
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