Maps, Diagrams and the History of Epidemic Modelling

Speaker: Lukas Engelmann # University of Edinburgh

30th Oct 2017

15:30 - 17:00

Chrystal MacMillan Building, 6th Floor staff room

Modelling has become conditional to an epidemiology of the digital age. The prognosis of epidemic developments, the calculation of an outbreak’s impact as well as the reconstruction of epidemics of the past rely today often on sophisticated practices of data modelling. These models inscribe assumptions about the nature of epidemics that structure and reorganize our way of seeing and knowing infectious diseases in past and present. Digital Epidemiology promises real time analysis of epidemic threats, turning behaviour on social media and in search engines into valuable data, and crucially, moving the field beyond the traditional clinical or laboratory diagnosis.

But formalized methods to epidemics are not a new phenomenon of the digital age. Rather, my presentation revisits the history of epidemiology as a history of the ongoing quantification, systematization and formalization of the epidemic event. Diagrams are found at the heart of the modern history of epidemiology since the mid nineteenth century. They have been used to characterize specific spatio-temporal characteristics of epidemics, to draw out models of aetiology and ecology as well as to conceptualize vectors with a scope ranging from microscopic pathogenic pathways to global transmission routes. My paper will deliver a brief survey of the function of diagram and diagrammatic practices in epidemiological analysis of the long 20th century to sketch out a preliminary genealogy of epidemiological data and its algorithmic organization.