Chancellor's Fellow, Senior Lecturer - History and Sociology of BiomedicineOrganisation
Science Technology and Innovation Studies
I am a historian of medicine and epidemiology. My research covers histories of epidemics such as HIV/AIDS and the third plague pandemic (1894-1952), the history of epidemiological reasoning as well as the digital transformation of public health in the present. From January 2021, my work on the history of epidemiological reasoning is funded by an ERC Starting Grant.
I am a member of the Wellcome-funded Centre for Biomedicine, Self & Society and member of the executive commitee of Edinburgh Infectious Diseases
I received my PhD in History at the Humboldt University in Berlin before I took up a position as post-doctoral research fellow at the Institute for the History of Medicine in Zurich in 2013. My doctoral research focused on the visual medical history of AIDS/HIV, which led to my first book, Mapping AIDS, published with Cambridge University Press in 2018.
In 2014, I joined Christos Lynteris' ERC project at CRASSH, University of Cambridge, to study the visual history of the Third Plague Pandemic (1890 to 1950) in North and South America. I focused on plague mapping, the history of medical photography, medical geography, and the plague-driven enforcement of bacteriological expertise in public health.
From archival findings emerged a collaborative project with Christos Lynteris on Sulphuric Utopias, published open access with MIT Press in March 2020. Our book concerns the technological history of fumigation and the political history of maritime sanitation at the turn of the twentieth century.
Medical history Medical Anthropology Medical sociology digital culture Epidemiology
Forthcoming: The Epidemiological Revolution. A History of Epidemiological Reasoning in the Twentieth Century. (ERC Starting Grant, January 2021 - December 2025)
Epidemiology has historically been a niche field in the medical sciences, often side-lined by laboratory scientists and clinicians as a weak and inferior science. However, over the twentieth century, the field and its experts have gained unprecedented authority and influence. Epidemiologists have won the trust of policy makers and the general public to define public health crises, such as infectious diseases, chronic conditions and 'unhealthy' lifestyles. I seek to understand how epidemiologists have built their arguments, how they define epidemics and what makes this kind of reasoning unique. The project’s focus will be on the history of three elements of ‘epidemiological reasoning.’ First, epidemiologists have built models to simulate epidemics, which now have powerful influences on decision making in public and global health, as recently demonstrated in Covid-19. Second, epidemiologists brought together scattered information from different sources to combine and compare data. Third, the field required interdisciplinary expertise from different fields to establish its strong generalist tradition.
With the Chancellor's Fellowship I work on the Long History of Epidemiological Reasoning. The project will illuminate historical developments in biomedicine and epidemiology that led to the emergence of an epidemiological reasoning based on data and models, rather than doctors’ diagnoses and the mere counting of cases. Over the next years, my research will show what influence practices of abstraction and formalization in the history of epidemiology had on today’s digital health landscape and ask how epidemiological reasoning assumed the overwhelming authority, with which it renders economic and political concerns obsolete in times of pandemic crisis (cf. COVID-19).
To this end, I engage with three fields of inquiry:
- Correlation, and the making of epidemiological data: Engaging with the history of data practices to map how the epidemiological outbreak report was transformed into discrete data-sets, askign how narrative forms continue to shape the production, circulation and perception of epidemiological insights.
- Configuration, and the formation of interdisciplinary expertise in epidemiology: Asking how the field of epidemiology was historically shaped, what kind of expertise it integrated (sociology, anthropology, mathematics, physics, biomedicine, economics) and what boundaries were developed towards other disciplines and fields.
- Modelling, and the invention of the epidemiological graph. Tracing the emergence of stochastic modelling through the twentieth century to reconstruct the development and historical stabilization of epidemic standard-models, graphs and visualisations.
I have developed a pilot study with Bea Alex, funded by the Challenge Investment Funds (UoE), to evaluate pathways for Text-Mining Outbreak
Reports of the Third Plague Pandemic. Results are forthcoming.
Other Research Activities
I am collaborating on a project funded by the Australian Research Council and led by Niamh Stephenson (University of NSW), "Realising big data’s potential to address social and health inequities."
Guidance and Feedback Hours
By appointment only
I organise the course History of Western Medicine, which runs in Semester one. The course is directed to first-year students and offers a general introduction to the history of medicine in Western society from the Ancient Greeks to the present. It will examine some of the different ways that doctors have thought about health and illness over the past two and a half thousand years and will raise general questions about the historical origins of modern scientific medicine. The course will introduce the changing role of experts in society, historical shifts in concepts of the body and of disease, and the changing understanding and impact of epidemics from antiquity to the present day.
I am one of the directors of the Intercalated Degree / BMedSci Hons Anthropology and Sociology of Medicine. The intercalated year in the Anthropology and Sociology of Medicine is designed to give aspiring medical practitioners a critical scholarly understanding of the social dimensions of modern medicine. This includes: the social meanings of healthcare, health and illness; the role and limits of biomedical science and technology; and what healthcare can deliver for individuals and societies in resource-rich and resource-poor settings. Students will develop a theoretical and practical appreciation of the different concepts and approaches used within anthropology and sociology, with a particular focus on how they can contribute to pressing debates about the role, aims and organisation of contemporary biomedical research, healthcare practice and policy-making.
- History and Sociology of Biomedicine - History of Epidemics and Epidemiology - Social and cultural dimensions of Plague, AIDS, Zika, AMR and Covid-19 - History of Sexuality - Medicine and Theory
Find out more about the programmes that I am involved with:
Current PhD Students
Chase Ledin Post-AIDS: Biomedical Futures, Chronic Materialities & Other Viral Assemblages
Iona Walker Reimagining AMR: Beyond the Military Metaphor
Cristina Moreno Antibiotic stewardship protocols, hospital infrastructures and healthcare practices in the context the emergence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in democratic Spain
Opinion Pieces & Reviews
Epidemiological Publics? On the Domestication of Modelling in the era of COVID-19, with Catherine Montgomery, Somatosphere, April 2020
#COVID19: The Spectacle of Real-Time Surveillance, Somatosphere, February 2020
In and out of Death’s Shadow; the History and Future of AIDS. The Times Literary Supplement, August 1, 2017.
The Past and Present of Contested Medical Authority Science as Culture 26, no. 3 (July 3, 2017): 424–29. doi:10.1080/09505431.2017.1315931.
Guenter B. Risse, Driven by Fear: Epidemics and Isolation in San Francisco’s House of Pestilence. Social History of Medicine 30, no. 3 (August 1, 2017): 697–98.
What Are Medical Photographs of Plague? REMEDIA, January 31, 2017.
The Devastation of Normalcy, Somatosphere, December 2, 2016 (review)
Books & Special Issues
Sulphuric Utopias. A History of Maritime Sanitation, with Christos Lynteris MIT Press, March 2020, Open Access
Special Issue: Working with Diagrams, with Caroline Humphrey and Christos Lynteris, in Social Analysis, December 2019
Mapping AIDS. Visual Histories of an Enduring Epidemic. Cambridge University Press, 2018
Peer-reviewed articles (selection)
Forthcoming: ‘A Poison Endowed with Life’: The Danysz Virus, Rodent Plagues and Early Epidemiology, under review at Isis
Picturing the Unusual. Uncertainty in the Historiography of Medical Photography, online preprint in Social History of Medicine
Configurations of Plague: Spatial Diagrams in Early Epidemiology, in: Social Analysis, 63, 4, p 89–109
A Plague of Kinyounism. Bacteriology and Caricature in 1900 San Francisco, online preprint in Social History of Medicine
Fumigating the Hygienic Model City: Bubonic Plague and the Sulfurozador in Early-Twentieth-Century Buenos Aires, in: Medical History, 62 (3), p. 360-382
The Duty to Participate in Digital Epidemiology, with Brent Mittelstadt, Justus Benzler, Barbara Prainsack, Effy Vayena, in: Life Sciences, Society and Policy 14 (9)
Photographing AIDS. On capturing AIDS in Pictures of People with AIDS, in: Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 90 (2), 2016, p. 250-278
Double Trouble? Towards an epistemology of co-infection with Janina Kehr, in: Medicine Anthropology Theory 2, 1-31