May 18, 2023

EP. 320 — How Did New Orleans Become New Orleans? (Part Two) with Dr. Kathryn Olivarius

New Orleans was one of America’s most important cities in the early 1800s. It was also one of the most deadly. This week, to mark the new season of Queer Eye, we’re exploring New Orleans history with Dr. Kathryn Olivarius in a special two-part episode. Today, we’re learning about yellow fever’s grip on the city—and what this illness revealed about power and politics in New Orleans.

Haven’t listened to part one yet? Check it out here to learn more about New Orleans history.

A note from the team: this episode discusses enslavement and graphic descriptions of illness.

Kathryn Olivarius is a prizewinning historian of slavery, medicine, and disease. She is Assistant Professor of History at Stanford University. Her book Necropolis: Disease, Power, and Capitalism in the Cotton Kingdom, published by Harvard University Press, was recently awarded the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize.

You can follow Dr. Olivarius on Twitter @katolivarius. Harvard University Press is on Twitter @Harvard_Press.

If you’re new to Getting Curious, here are some episodes that are relevant to today’s discussion:

When Viruses Spread, Who’s Most Vulnerable?

What’s The Sordid History Of U.S. Trash Collection?

Who Does America’s “Child Welfare System” Serve?

Who Built The Panama Canal?

How F$^*#d Up Is Fatphobia?

Follow us on Instagram @CuriousWithJVN to join the conversation. Jonathan is on Instagram @JVN.


Transcripts for each episode are available at

Find books from past Getting Curious guests at; we’ll be updating it soon with more releases!


Our executive producer is Erica Getto. Our editor is Andrew Carson. Production support from Julie Carrillo, Chris McClure, and Emily Bossak.


Our theme music is “Freak” by QUIÑ; for more, head to


Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness & Kathryn Olivarius  JVN [00:00:00] Welcome to Getting Curious. I’m Jonathan Van Ness and every week I sit down for a gorgeous conversation with a brilliant expert to learn all about something that makes me curious. This is part two of our conversation with Dr. Kathryn Olivarius, all about New Orleans history. In part one, we covered the basics on the Louisiana Purchase, New Orleans statehood, and New Orleans politics and power in the early 1800s. Today, we’re getting into Kathryn’s area of expertise: yellow fever. Now I did not even know that yellow fever was such a huge deal, but honey, was it ever! As we learned yesterday, every second or third summer in the 1800s, yellow fever became epidemic in New Orleans. And this disease could kill between 8 and 10% of the population each summer. As Kathryn’s about to share with us, the story of yellow fever is the story of New Orleans, and people in the city are still feeling the effects of t

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