The History of Infectious Plagues and Veterinary Science

In one century, animal health care in North America evolved from farriers and itinerant cow leeches to science-based veterinary medicine. Pioneer Science and the Great Plagues: How Microbes, War, and Public Health Shaped Animal Health by Norman F. Cheville covers this century of progress fighting infectious diseases and plagues, illuminating the important role of veterinary research and science.

The narrative of Pioneer Science and the Great Plagues is driven by astonishing events that centered on animal disease: the influenza pandemic of 1872, discovery of the causes of anthrax and tuberculosis in 1880s, conquest of Texas cattle fever and then yellow fever, the German anthrax attacks on the U. S. during World War I, the tuberculin war of 1931, Japanese biological warfare in the 1940s, and todays bioterror dangers.

This history focuses on the scientists and institutions that pioneered veterinary education and research and made conquering these plagues possible. It memorializes events that propelled science forward and those that blocked progress. This includes the ways in which the cycles of discovery were enhanced or impeded by viability of the economy, demands of war, and idiosyncrasies of political culture. Also underlying this change were twin idiosyncrasies of culture—disbelief in science and distrust of government—that spawned scientology, creationism, ‘no vaccination’ movements, and other anti-science scams.

This phenomenon is now all too familiar, our world now reckoning with disbelief in science and cultural stasis that threatens progress. As new infectious plagues continue to arise, Pioneer Science and the Great Plagues details the strategies we learned defeating plagues from 1860 to 1960, and the essential role veterinary science played.


“Dr. Norman Cheville draws on over sixty years of experience as a prominent veterinary researcher, educator, and administrator, and he makes use of his acute observational and analytical abilities to provide his perspective on the early and continuing evolution of veterinary medicine. The result is a fascinating and thought-provoking examination of veterinary medical history, with insights to help shape the future of a profession that plays a central role in addressing critical challenges facing the modern world such as infectious diseases, food security and safety, public health, climate change, sustaining wildlife, and the human-animal bond.”

—James Roth, Clarence Hartley Covault Distinguished Professor, Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine


PIONEER SCIENCE AND THE GREAT PLAGUES by Norman F. Cheville is out March 15, 2021.

Receive 30% off Pioneer Science and the Great Plagues: How Microbes, War, and Public Health Shaped Animal Health and any other Purdue University Press book by ordering directly from our website and entering the code PURDUE30 at checkout.