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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Infectious diseases

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Tuberculosis: the head of the Medusa representing the disease, and advertising an exhibition against tuberculosis in Basel, 1913. (Image courtesy of the Wellcome Trust, library ref Iconographic Collection 5134i. Distributed under Creative Commons licence by-nc 2.0)

Infectious diseases have affected humans throughout history. Some, such as the Black Death in fourteenth-century Europe and cholera in the nineteenth century, took the form of dramatic epidemics, while others, like tuberculosis and syphilis, brought discomfort and killed their victims slowly. Historians have long taken great interest in infectious diseases, not just because they had devastating physical, economic and social consequences, but also because people's and medical practitioners' ideas and practices regarding infectious diseases yield information about notions of the body and ill-health, as well as the social conditions, political institutions and medical systems of a particular time and place. This point is mirrored in our own time, as debates over infectious diseases such as AIDS, MRSA and swine flu seem to be based on similar, untold cultural assumptions.

A number of researchers at CHSTM study the history of infectious diseases. Michael Worboys is well known for his work on germ theories of disease, bacteriology and tropical diseases, and has recently published on the history of rabies with Neil Pemberton.  With Aya Homei, he continues to work the history of fungal infections in collaboration with Professor David Denning at the University's Medical School.

Flurin Condrau is an expert on the history of tuberculosis and the edited collection Tuberculosis then and now: perspectives on the history of an infectious disease will be published in 2010.  He is also working on the history of antibiotics, especially hospital infections and, with Michael Worboys, continues to publish on infections and epidemics

Together, they cover a wide range of topics, time-periods and geographical areas, which further deepen our understanding of the history of infectious diseases.

Recent publications by CHSTM staff and students

Flurin Condrau and Michael Worboys, eds. Tuberculosis then and now: perspectives on the history of an infectious disease. McGill University Press, 2010.

Flurin Condrau. "Standardising infection control: antibiotics and hospital governance in Britain, 1948-1960". In Christian Bonah, Anne Rasmussen and Christophe Masutti, eds, Harmonizing twentieth century drugs: standards in pharmaceutical history. Paris: Glyphe, 2009.

Aya Homei. "Specialization and medical mycology in the US, Britain and Japan". Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 2008, 39(1): 80-92.

John T Macfarlane and Michael Worboys. "The changing management of acute bronchitis in Britain, 1940-1970: the impact of antibiotics". Medical History, 2008, 52(1): 47-72.

Neil Pemberton and Michael Worboys. Mad dogs and Englishmen: rabies in Britain, 1830-2000. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Michael Worboys. "Was there a bacteriological revolution in late nineteenth-century medicine?" Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biology and Biomedical Sciences, 2007, 38(1): 20-42.

Michael Worboys. "Vaccines: conquering untreatable diseases". British Medical Journal, 2007, 334 s19 (Suppl. 1): 19.

Flurin Condrau. "Urban tuberculosis patients and sanatorium treatment in the early twentieth century". In Anne Borsay and Peter Shapely, eds, Medicine, charity and mutual aid: the consumption of health and welfare, c.1550-1950. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007, 183-206.

Flurin Condrau and Michael Worboys. "Epidemics and infections in nineteenth-century Britain". Social History of Medicine, 2007, 20(1): 80-90 and 22(1): 165-71.

Flurin Condrau. "The institutional career of tuberculosis patients in Britain and Germany". In John Henderson and Peregrine Horden, eds, The impact of hospitals in Europe, 1000-2002. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2007, 327-357.

Sanjoy Bhattacharya, Mark Harrison and Michael Worboys. Fractured states: smallpox, public health and vaccination policy in British India, 1800-1947. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 2005.
Michael Worboys. "Unsexing gonorrhoea: bacteriologists, gynaecologists and Suffragists in Britain, 1860-1920". Social History of Medicine, 2004, 17(1): 31-59.

Michael Worboys. Spreading Germs: Disease Theories and Medical Practice in Britain, 1865-1900, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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