This essay explores the potential for literary history to be useful as a part of epidemiological sleuthing. It considers how an imperative to employ social determinants of health frameworks incites movement away from epidemiological plots, particularly the forward trajectory of the outbreak narrative and its privileging of containment as the solution to emerging infections. Instead, opportunities arise to explore how data about the history of present-day structural inequities offer better ways to combat the deleterious effects of outbreaks. Through an analysis of Harriet Wilson’s novel Our Nig, this essay lays out provisional ways in which literary history and those with expertise in it may prove an untapped resource for increasing our knowledge of how to prevent disproportionate risk of disease, debility, and death for people of color.

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