Alex Chase-Levenson

Assistant Professor

Alex Chase-Levenson is a specialist in nineteenth-century British, European, and Mediterranean history. A political and cultural historian, his research interests include medical history, the history of travel, and the history of borders and frontiers. His first book, The Yellow Flag: Quarantine and the British Mediterranean World, 1780–1860, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2020. The Yellow Flag considers Britain's engagement with the Mediterranean quarantine system, which mediated all travel across the Middle Sea and mandated the detention of every single ship, trade good, or person moving from North Africa and the Middle East to Western Europe until the 1850s (even in times of good health). The system was based on the fear of bubonic plague, but the vast majority of ships detained by it departed from ports that were free of disease. The book examines how quarantine helped forge a Western European biopolity, how the British Empire spread Mediterranean techniques around the world, and how epidemic disease shaped Western civilizational interpretations of the Ottoman Empire. It also shows how Mediterranean patterns and precedents helped shape public health reform and contributed to the growth of the state in Britain itself.

His current project, continuing the theme of borders, examines British fascination with national border lines throughout the long nineteenth century. Considering boundary disputes, invasion panics, and debates about the admissions of refugees, the work investigates the apparent paradox between an empire with aspirations towards borderless, expansive power whose strategists were simultaneously obsessed with delimitation of frontiers and anxieties about border transgressions.

Other projects have examined the consumption of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century and the philosophy of "virtual tourism" at the Sydenham Crystal Palace. Dr. Chase-Levenson received a PhD in History from Princeton University in 2015 and started teaching at Penn the same year.