New York: how the past prepared us for the future of disease

New York is one of the few truly global cities, existing as much in billions of people’s imaginations as on the island of Manhattan and its environs.

Watch to find out more about 'Stories of life and death' at the Tenement Museum. The historical images featured in this film are kindly provided by the Tenement Museum and © New York Historical Society.

New York’s tenements – and the generations who have called them home – have long been the focus of concerns about contagion and public health.

As part of Contagious Cities, the Tenement Museum offered a series of special tours of its historic tenement buildings located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The tours told stories linking themes of disease, medicine, immigration and reform in the lives of their former residents.

People featured included: 

  • Romanian immigrant Jacob Burinescu, who died during the 1918 influenza pandemic 
  • German-born John and Caroline Schneider, who operated a mid-19th century beer saloon while suffering from TB
  • Benjamin and Crispin, a Puerto Rican migrant couple who lived with HIV during the 1980s.

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Contagious Cities was a collaborative exploration of microbes, migration and the metropolis.

The project ran from September 2018 to September 2019.

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