Historiographical Inquiry Into the Theoretical and Methodological Implications of Borders in the Studies of Great Epidemics: Bugs and Borders

Author: Nielsen, May-Brith Ohman
The present study explores the complex relations between some significant historical phenomena, the great epidemics of modern times, and the way historians and other scholars have designed and conducted their study of those phenomena. It examines the historical research on big international epidemics of infectious diseases between 1830 and 1960 utilizing public health records, anthologies and monographs in multiple languages from 255 source publications in 27 countries


“Compared to other historiographical studies Ohman Nielsen’s analysis of the importance of theoretical and methodological significance of borders in epidemics research within medical history has significantly raised the threshold of ambition. Her study transcends borders… She has scrutinized more than 255 publications within medical history from no less than 26 different countries. This is a uniquely large and complex material.”
-Professor Anette Warring,
Roskilde University, Denmark

“May-Brith Ohman Nielsen has analysed around 300 publications on three great epidemics: cholera, tuberculosis and Spanish flu. What makes the achievement all the more remarkable is that the analysed publications include monographs and articles written in a number of different languages and published in many different countries. This wide and varied selection of publications has enabled Ohman Nielsen to go beyond the strong Anglo-American discourse, and also to identify and analyse issues that are particularly important in Northern or Central European contexts.
Her work makes a unique and important contribution to the history of public health and medicine and, in particular, to our understanding of how the histories of great epidemics have been written in the last fifty years and how the writing of these histories has been shaped, for example, by different research traditions and trends.”
-Marjaana Niemi,
Professor of International History,
University of Tampere, Finland

“A very welcomed study of high relevance and potential impact on several fields of history. In the field of history of health and medicine, it clearly contributes to the historiography of each of the three epidemics, through the discussion of works of high impact as well as less well-known works along several dimensions. The inclusion of works in several languages and the transnational character of the analyses, is valuable and highly laudable, bringing interesting results not obtainable by the more usual nationally bound and/or single-language oriented views.”
-Dr. Teemu Ryymin,
Professor Modern History,
University of Bergen

Table of Contents

Theme and purpose of this historiographical study of bugs and borders
Epidemics and borders
What kinds of historical features are epidemics?
Method of approach and selection of sources
-Analytical framework
Findings and discussions on aspects of space and time
Some significant historical aspects of the disease
Point of view
Main types of sources and main source challenges in research
Finding and discussions of the epidemics as historical events
Epidemics and change
Values, narratives and discourse
-Values at the time
-Narrative and discourse
Messages and scholarly virtues
-Open and covert messages to the reader
-Virtues in historical research
Final remarks