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A Close Look at Spain’s 1817 Health Guidelines: Avoiding the Spread of Disease

In Custodia Legis The following is a guest post by Alice Pérez Ververa, an intern with the Digital Resources Division of the Law Library of Congress. She is a current student of the Information School at the University of Washington. “This document was a mandate with 24 instructions written by Spanish government and health authorities on handling the spread of bubonic plague in Spain near coastal towns and ports. Ensuring the health and safety of the public through ordinances was as important in 1817 as it is in 2020. Interested in reading the entire document in English? You can read the entire English translation here. Before the age of social distancing, quarantining, shelter-in-place orders, hand sanitizer, and mask-wearing there was isolation in open fields, lazarettos, health ballots, and soaking your mail in vinegar. Travel back 200 years and you would find people dealing with their pandemic in that way. In 1817, the Spanish government sent instructions to local governments declaring the outbreak of plague after reports of a wave of the bubonic plague hitting northern Africa near Algiers, Bona, and other towns. This declaration, contained in the above “instructions”, was targeted at the Spanish coastal towns and seaports which saw a lot of traffic back then. The guidelines put in place by the Spanish government during this time are strikingly similar to what we are currently practicing. The plague has been interwoven throughout history. The Black Death dates back to the 14th century, when it scarred Europe, killing half the population, and sent civilization into the Dark Ages. Spain, wanting to avoid another catastrophe such as that, published several laws and guidelines to help combat the spread of the bubonic plague…”

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