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Historical Epidemiology and Global Health

Abstract:  This paper will argue that historical epidemiology constitutes a core yet neglected dimension of global health. Few historians have been drawn to study the efforts to control disease over time and space and the ways in which interventions have influenced disease transmission. This is, in part, because this research field demands competencies in the biomedical aspects of disease transmission that are often outside of the historian’s training. Conversely, historical epidemiology has attracted the attention of few global health policy-makers or practitioners, because it demands a familiarity with historical methods and with thinking about change over time.

This paper will advance several historical cases, drawn from different types of interventions in different settings, to explicate the argument for greater attention to historical epidemiology. It will make the case that the emerging field of the historical epidemiology of contemporary disease challenges can improve global health outcomes and that ignorance of past interventions constitutes an unacceptable public health risk.


Bio:  James L.A. Webb, Jr. is Research Professor at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.
Jim is a pioneer in the field of historical epidemiology. His work integrates approaches from the biological sciences and the social sciences to produce perspectives that are useful to historians, practitioners, and planners in the field of global public health. He is the founding editor of the series Perspectives on Global Health at the Ohio University Press. He is currently working on an historical epidemiology of diarrheal diseases and interventions.



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