October 30, 2021

Conference paper: Animals, Epidemics and the Mongol Invasions

On 30th October, PhD candidate on the Aftermath project, Baihui Duan, will give a paper at the Association of Korean Studies in Europe Conference, La Rochelle University, France, and online. The paper entitled, “Animals, Epidemics and the Mongol Invasions: Towards an Ecological History of Thirteenth and Fourteenth-Century Korea” will take place at 2pm CEST.

Thirteenth and fourteenth-Century Korea under Mongol rule experienced a mortality crisis. Existing scholarship has examined deaths during the Mongol Invasion of Korea (1231–1259) and argued that the epidemics caused by warfare were a major factor. The continuous famines and outbreaks caused more deaths than the warfare itself. By closely scrutinizing the epidemic evidence in historical documents, this paper provides an environmental perspective on the outbreaks and examines the epidemics at a zoonotic stage. The environmental legacy of the Mongol invasion of Korea involved not only the transport of new germs but also the transit of new cultural disease environments. These new germs might have been carried by Mongol cavalry and transmitted by rat infestation and flea attacks. The rodents which appear frequently in the historical records posed a threat to Korean daily life. Based on these records, this paper examines the hypothesis that the movement and spread of rats during the thirteenth-fourteenth century indicates that the Korean outbreaks at this time were likely to be a spread of the plague. The Mongol nomadic culture with an affinity to livestock like horses, cattle and sheep also created another appropriate environment for viruses. Even after the end of the invasions, the established disease environments and continuous movements of people continued to affect the Korean peninsula and its animal and human inhabitants during the thirteenth and fourteenth-century Koryŏ dynasty.

The conference program may be downloaded here.