The History of Science and Medicine in the Context of COVID‐19
Project Description

The introduction to a spotlight issue of the journal Centaurus (see PDF on the left) encourages reflection on the current COVID‐19 pandemic, not simply through comparisons with previous epidemics but also by illustrating that epidemics deserve study within their broader cultural, political, scientific, and geographic contexts. Epidemics are not solely a function of pathogens; they are also a function of how society is structured, how political power is wielded in the name of public health, how quantitative data is collected, how diseases are categorized and modeled, and how histories of disease are narrated. Each of these activities has its own history. As historians of science and medicine have long pointed out, even the most basic methodologies that underpin scientific research–observation, trust in numbers, the use of models, even the experimental method itself–have a history. They should not be taken as a given but understood as processes, or even strategies, that were negotiated, argued for and against, and developed within particular historical contexts and explanatory schemes. Knowing the history of something–whether of numbers, narratives, or disease–enables us to see a broader range of trajectories available to us. These varied histories also remind us that we are currently in the midst of a chaotic drama of uncertainty within our own unstable and unfolding narrative. Dr. Erica Charters, University of Oxford, collaborates on the project.

Additional Projects

An additional project is the article Richard A. McKay wrote for The Conversation to contextualize and critique the widespread misuse of the phrase 'patient zero' in relation to cases of COVID-19 in the early phase of the pandemic's global emergence. The open access article has been picked up by Newsweek, among other publications, and received close to 29,000 digital readers in the period April 1–August 27, 2020.

Contact Infomation: First name
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Wellcome Trust Research Fellow
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Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge
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ram78 [at]

Cambridge, England, UK