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A Free Reading Passage on Crowd Diseases for AP U.S. History

Cate O'Donnell

4 min read

May 7

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Crowd diseases are a referenced topic in the Columbian Exchange, Spanish Exploration, and Conquest topic in Period 1 of AP U.S. History. You could reference this example on your AP U.S. History test.



plague in London
Plague in London/public domain


In the bustling urban centers of medieval Europe, the close quarters and unsanitary conditions provided fertile ground for the rapid spread of crowd diseases. Overcrowded living spaces, inadequate sanitation, and limited access to clean water created ideal conditions for the transmission of infectious diseases, leading to devastating outbreaks that ravaged populations.


The Black Death, a devastating plague caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, swept through Europe in the 14th century, causing widespread death and suffering. Originating in Central Asia and spreading along trade routes, it spread via fleas carried by rats, thriving in the crowded, unsanitary conditions of medieval cities. Symptoms included high fever, painful buboes (swollen lymph nodes), and dark skin patches. Mortality rates were staggering, wiping out a significant portion of Europe’s population. The impact was profound, shaping cultural attitudes and inspiring art that reflected the existential dread caused by the plague’s indiscriminate nature.


Another crowd disease was measles. This highly contagious viral infection characterized by fever and a distinctive rash likely originated from animals such as cattle before making the leap to humans. Its transmission was facilitated by close human contact, particularly in densely populated urban areas. Measles outbreaks in medieval Europe were frequent and often deadly, leading to high mortality rates, especially among children and infants.


Influenza, or the flu, is another crowd disease that has plagued Europe throughout history. Originating from wild aquatic birds, particularly ducks and geese, influenza viruses can undergo genetic changes and cross species barriers to infect humans. The crowded conditions of urban centers provided ample opportunities for the spread of influenza, leading to frequent outbreaks and occasional pandemics with significant mortality rates.


Smallpox, caused by the variola virus, is a highly contagious disease that likely originated in ancient civilizations of Egypt and India before spreading to Europe. Unlike measles and influenza, smallpox is primarily a human disease, transmitted directly from person to person through respiratory droplets or contact with bodily fluids. Smallpox outbreaks were particularly devastating, with high mortality rates and long-term consequences for survivors, including disfigurement and blindness.


While deadly, outbreaks of crowd diseases in Europe played a crucial role in the development of immunity within surviving populations. Over centuries of exposure to diseases like smallpox, measles, and the bubonic plague, those who survived built up immunity, either through genetic resistance or acquired immunity from prior exposure.


The arrival of European explorers in the Americas marked a pivotal moment in history, not only for the exchange of goods and ideas but also for the unintentional transmission of deadly diseases that ravaged native populations. The earliest encounters between Europeans and indigenous peoples led to the introduction of crowd diseases, which swept through the New World with devastating consequences. Prior to Columbus’s arrival in 1492, estimates suggest that the population of the Americas numbered anywhere from 50 to 100 million people. However, by the end of the 16th century, following waves of epidemic disease and colonization, the indigenous population had plummeted to as low as 5 to 10 million. This decimation of native populations meant that later explorers and settlers encountered significantly smaller and weakened indigenous communities, profoundly shaping the course of history in the Americas.


Our own Thanksgiving story is shaped by disease in the New World. In the early 1600s, the Patuxet tribe, nestled in the region now known as Plymouth, Massachusetts, faced a devastating fate. Their peaceful existence was shattered by the arrival of European explorers and traders, who unwittingly brought with them a slew of deadly crowd diseases. With no immunity to these foreign illnesses, the Patuxet people were ravaged by epidemics, decimating their population, leaving their settlement abandoned as survivors fled in desperation.


Meanwhile, Squanto, a member of the Patuxet tribe, faced his own harrowing journey. Captured by European traders, he was taken across the Atlantic Ocean and sold into slavery in Spain. He eventually managed to escape and found refuge in England.


Years later, Squanto returned to his homeland, only to discover the devastation that had befallen his people. Amidst the ruins of his once-vibrant community, Squanto encountered a new group of arrivals—the Pilgrims, who had crossed the ocean aboard the Mayflower in search of religious freedom.

Squanto offered his assistance to the struggling Pilgrims. Drawing upon his knowledge of the land and agricultural techniques, he taught them how to cultivate crops, navigate the wilderness, and forge alliances with neighboring Native American tribes, including the Wampanoag.


Crowd diseases, such as smallpox, measles, and influenza, introduced to the New World by European explorers and settlers, had devastating effects on indigenous populations. Lacking immunity to these diseases, native communities experienced widespread death and societal disruption. Estimates suggest that these diseases wiped out up to 90% of some indigenous populations, leading to the loss of languages, traditions, and knowledge systems. The collapse of indigenous societies created power vacuums exploited by European colonizers, exacerbating marginalization and displacement. The impact of crowd diseases remains a tragic and significant chapter in the history of the New World, reshaping its demographics and cultural landscapes profoundly.



PRINTABLE READING PASSAGE ON CROWD DISEASES

Would you prefer to share a printable passage with your students? Click the image below to grab it!




crowd diseases FREE reading passage



Do you want to watch a video about crowd diseases?







Columbian Exchange, Spanish Exploration, and Conquest



Period 1



AP U.S. History



crowd diseases



#measles #Patuxet #BlackDeath #influenza #crowddiseases #smallpox

Cate O'Donnell

4 min read

May 7

3

0

0

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