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Cambridge Reproduction

The Hidden Affliction: book launch

Last week saw the launch of a new multidisciplinary collection of essays about the relationship between the 'historic' sexually transmitted infections - gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and syphilis - and infertility. The Hidden Affliction: sexually transmitted infections and infertility in history (University of Rochester Press, 2019) brings together prominent scholars from the University of Cambridge and elsewhere, producing surprising new insights in studies from across the globe and spanning millennia. 

The Cambridge Reproduction SRI hosted a launch event for the book on 13 November 2019, at the Old Divinity School, St John's College, Cambridge. Several of the book's contributors spoke at the event about their research. Simon Szreter (Professor of History and Public Policy at the University of Cambridge, a member of the Reproduction SRI steering committee, and editor of the book) spoke about the genesis of this volume, and about his own research into rates of sexually transmitted infections among the professional classes in England and Wales in the early 20th century. Dr Rebecca Flemming (Senior Lecturer in Classics, Cambridge) discussed whether, when we talk about "gonorrhoea" in the ancient world, it is in fact the same disease that is known by that name today - and about how we can identify diseases in antiquity from the textual and physical evidence which are all that remain now. Ian Clark (Professor of Molecular Microbiology/Virology at the University of Southampton) discussed the role of chlamydia in causing infertility (which is relatively small compared with other STIs), and how we can look at historical isolates of the relevant microorganisms to see how they have mutated over the years. Finally, Tim Bayliss-Smith (Emeritus Professor of Pacific Geography, Cambridge) talked about how the introduction of previously-unknown STIs to Melanesia caused widespread infertility and a catastrophic collapse in population in this region.

These talks have been recorded and may be watched online on the Cambridge History Faculty YouTube channel. The timestamps for the individual talks are:

Professor Simon Szreter: 00:21 Dr Rebecca Flemming: 30:56 Professor Ian Clark: 39:30 Professor Tim Bayliss-Smith: 48:24


More information about the book can be found on the Boydell & Brewer website: