The exhibit is divided into several sections with each beginning with a question about a particular disease. One question is, "Did cholera pave the way for modern cities?" The question is followed by a map of how the disease spread over time and includes vivid images of the agent that caused the disease. Barnard's illustrations from the book include information on how each infectious disease influenced history.
In another section, Barnard questions whether yellow fever helped end the slave trade or not. A map is presented showing that yellow fever, which is usually transmitted by mosquitoes, started in Africa and spread to the New World through slave ships. Most of the slaves had survived the disease as children, giving them immunity as adults. However, many Europeans were sickened and killed by the disease. When Napoleon sent his men to Haiti to quell a revolt, many of them were inflicted with yellow fever, which led to Haiti being the first nation founded by former slaves in 1804. Microscopic images of the yellow fever virus are included in the display.
Other diseases focused on in the exhibit include smallpox, which killed up to 90% of Native Americans allowing the Europeans to conquer the New World, and tuberculosis, with symptoms of which many Europeans thought were a sign of artistic fire. Barnard's book prompted a compelling topic for museum curator, Louise E. Shaw. "Barnard talks about the impact of various diseases on history," said Shaw. "Including plague, smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, influenza, and HIV/AIDS. The Center for Disease Control works in all of these areas, so the exhibit is a perfect fit. Our ultimate goal is to educate the public about disease control and prevention, and a popular-based visual arts project such as this one is an accessible and compelling tool."
Julie Just of the New York Times described one illustration that depicts a medieval European doctor tending a plague victim in wide-brimmed hat, gloves and long-beaked mask with goggles. "The cure looks at least as deadly as the disease," said Just.
Barnard claims his illustrations "span the range from magic realist landscapes, to scientific and historical tableaux, to children's book illustration." Each of his art works are thoroughly researched to ensure it accurately depicts historical events. Barnard's images, which he began creating in 1984, mostly consist of oil on panel, and he also uses acrylic and digital imagery.
Trudi Ellerman, one of the main tour guides of the exhibit, views the exhibit as an opportunity to apply a scientific perspective to social history.
"Smallpox enabled the conquistadores to take over the new world more easily," said Ellerman. "The Black Death contributed to the fact that Europe has a middle class now and it's not just the serfs and the landowners. It's full of just really interesting perspectives like this. She added, "We pride ourselves on showing you some funky stuff you might not see anywhere else."
The exhibit runs until January 30, 2009 and the museum is open Monday through Wednesday from 10 a.m to 4 p.m, Thursday from 9 a.m. - 7 p.m, and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free and a driver's license or passport is required for entry.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/gcc/exhibit.