Phytophthora infestans is not often mentioned as a major protagonist of modern history even though it made a major contribution to creating linkages between distinct and distant places in the middle of the nineteenth century. It travelled to Europe in 1845, after a sojourn in the USA, and, as far as we know its pedigree, had origins in Central America. Under its spell, a common fate of want and suffering hit communities across Western Europe in 1845 and 1846. Irrespective of national affiliations, but according to the composition of people’s diet, Phytophthora infestans put pressure on social policy institutions in several cities and regions. It created a European-wide atmosphere of social unrest and market riots, and affected international discussions about free trade. In the west and south-west of Ireland, at the peak of its activity, not only did it bring about the death of about 1 million people but it also boosted the importance of a migration that had started a century before, and sent about 2 million Irish men and women to England, Wales, Scotland, the United States, Canada and Australia.1 Being the fungus responsible for potato blight, Phytophthora infestans is more familiar to environmental historians, who retrace the mutual impact of humans and the biosphere, than to historians of migrations and of public policies. Yet, as it literally flew with the wind from Flanders, its European bridgehead, it singled itself out for the future attention of transnational historians, to whom it gives a clue that connections are not only created by human beings but also by other living organisms. Humans matter, but so do animals, germs, things and technologies. Consequently, our journey in this chapter will take on board both human and non-human intermediaries.
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