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Mapping Contagion - Digital Methods Development workshop

This Digital Methods Development Workshop will explore histories and futures of mapping the spread of epidemics. Drawing on the work of the Visual Plague project, which is assembling a visual history of the Third plague pandemic, the workshop will interrogate mapping as a historical and contemporary practice.
When Nov 20, 2015
from 11:30 AM to 03:30 PM
Where Faculty of English, Boardroom
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Organised by the Digital Humanities Network in collaboration with the Faculty of History and the Visual Plague project

The workshop will encourage a differentiation of different mapping styles in the past, will ask for traces of tropical and colonial medicine in global maps of diseases and will shed light on the medical application of digital mapping technologies like GIS. But furthermore, the workshop intends to revisit the initial assumption structuring medical geography, big data visualizations and other mappings of spatial disease models that mapping adds a substantial layer of new information to historical narratives, statistical tables and hypothetical models. The question to be raised throughout the workshop is therefore: why do we map diseases and what kind of knowledge is acquired through mapping of past, present and future epidemic threats that can't be achieved otherwise?

Lukas Engelmann (CRASSH, Visual Plague)
Professor Alison Bashford (History, The Quarantine Project)
Dr Shirlene Badger (Institute of Public Health)
Dr Kathryn Berger (Cambridge Veterinary School)   
Dr Christos Lynteris (CRASSH, Visual Plague)

Spaces are limited and must be booked online in advance

Session 1 - 11.30 - 1pm

Lukas Engelmann (Visual Plague)

Practices of mapping have contributed to knowledge about epidemics throughout history. Mappings allowed to isolate affected areas, they were crucial for installing and defending quarantines, and they helped to understand the dynamics and structures of diseases which affected a number of people constrained by time and space. As such the history of epidemics and the history of their mapping could be understood as inseparable. And within this history, plague and its geographical representations can be understood as the historical archetype of disease mapping. My presentation aims to give a short overview on the long history of plague mapping. Reaching from 16th century visions of quarantine through early 20th century cartographies of a global pandemic to end with 21st century digital approaches to historical geographies, the aim is to isolate different ways of seeing, different modes of evidence and different political implications deriving from a history of mapping the plague. 

Professor Alison Bashford (Faculty of History / The Quarantine Project)

The Quarantine Project at the University of Sydney, led by Dr Annie Clarke (Sydney) and Professor Alison Bashford (Cambridge) involves the mapping and digital recording of several thousand inscriptions in the sandstone. This introduction to the project –“Stories from the Sandstone” – will discuss how we builds our own spatial analysis of inscriptions into and onto the prior, heavily spatialised phenomenon of quarantine and disease prevention. 

Lunch 1 - 1.30  

A sandwich lunch will be provided for participants 

Session 2 - 1.30 - 3 

Dr Kathryn Berger (Cambridge Veterinary School)

My work is in the spatial and temporal aspects of infectious disease epidemiology and how they can be used to support disease models, as well as surveillance and disease control efforts. I will be introducing methods for disease mapping and the development of both ecological and geospatial models of disease risk. Specifically, I will introduce this work in the context of my current research to systematically identify critical gaps in animal influenza virus surveillance and potential for cross-species transmission risk, by mapping the geographic distribution of animal influenza viruses and the surveillance activities that monitor them. This work has involved the assembly of a global database of known animal influenza virus occurrence, surveillance activities and information on potential for human-interaction for the development of a cross-species transmission risk model.

Dr Shirlene Badger (Institute of Public Health) 

Ethnographic perspectives on sequencing, data and the mobility of bugs

In the field of clinical microbiology, the databases of pathogens and their associated transmission events are undergoing new mapping techniques providing specific (and at times beautiful) visualisations of mobility. In the case of ‘bugs’, mobility is at once evolutionary and geographical, depicting stories of lineage, contamination and distances travelled. Through the re-telling of two ethnographic moments recounting the practices of translational, interpretive and implementation work amongst a team developing whole genome sequencing of pathogens for clinical application, we will explore questions of how those visualisations, when mediated by the application of whole genome sequencing, are interpreted to impart identities and histories linking bug with host in a manner flagged up for its’ potential clinical utility. 

Session 3 - 3.30pm

Dr Christos Lynteris (CRASSH / Visual Plague) will lead a final discussion summing up the themes of the day. 

Background reading 

Barrett, F.A. Disease and Geography: The History of an Idea. Vol. 23. Geographical Monographs. York: York University, 2000.

Jarcho, Saul. “Some Early Italian Epidemiological Maps.” Imago Mundi 35, no. 1 (1983): 9–19. 

Hay et al. Global mapping of infectious disease. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2013 Mar 19; 368(1614): 20120250. doi:  10.1098/rstb.2012.0250 (also summarised online here:

Koch, Tom. Disease Maps. Epidemics on the Ground. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

McLeod, Kari S. “Our Sense of Snow: The Myth of John Snow in Medical Geography.” Social Science & Medicine 50, no. 7 (2000): 923–35. 

Rupke, Nicolaas A., ed. Medical Geography in Historical Perspective. London: Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL, 2000. 


An openly available website application for mapping global infectious diseases (and outbreaks near you!)