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Jim Downs, Gettysburg College
The Troubled Origins of Epidemiology: How Slavery and Colonialism Transformed Medicine.
This talk rethinks the history of epidemiology by uncovering the untold ways in which slavery, imperialism, and war created built environments—ships, plantations, and battlefields—that enabled physicians to study the spread of infectious disease. Drawing on archival records primarily in England, Malta, Spain, and the United States, I have uncovered evidence of how doctors developed epidemiological methods before John Snow’s infamous investigation, which traced the outbreak of cholera to a water pump. While medical thinkers since Aristotle have studied epidemics, this lecture will show how the confluence of slavery, imperialism, and war gave way to the creation of a massive bureaucracy that enabled doctors to develop a bird’s eye view of an epidemic, and allowed physicians to share information about infectious disease among subjugated populations.
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