The aim of this project is to produce a systematic history of epidemiology and of the development of epidemiological techniques from the mid seventeenth to the mid twentieth century. The work of Thomas Sydenham (1624-89), in identifying disease entities, and of John Graunt (1620-74) in using quantitative methods for the study of plague, is generally recognized as initiating a population approach to problems of disease. After that, epidemiology struggled to achieve recognition as a scientific discipline. It was only at the turn of the nineteenth century, with chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases emerging as major killers, and with the development of Pearsonian and Fisherian statistics, that new epidemiological methods began to be developed and applied in a systematic way. The project will adopt a case-study approach, focusing on specific diseases and the methodological developments they originally stimulated. It will provide rigorous, evidence-based answers to questions such as: Why weren't medical issues studied using group comparisons before the 17th century? Why was the development of new epidemiological techniques sporadic before 1900? Why did these early developments only have a limited practical impact? Why was there an acceleration in the development and practical application of epidemiologic methods after circa 1900, and even more so after 1945? Why have cancer and heart disease issues been most useful for allowing epidemiology to demonstrate the validity of its methods and to directly impact social policy and population health? For each case-study, the project is to: 1. Systematically screen the historical, epidemiological and biostatistical literature for relevant information about the historical context and the evolution of the methods and concepts, which constitute epidemiology today;and 2. Document the medical knowledge accrued through the use of epidemiologic methods. The project also comprises the interview in audio-visual, internet conferences of senior epidemiologists to determine what they think is important about the history of their discipline and what epidemiologists-in-training should know. All this work will serve to write, revise, and publis a book entitled, """"""""The Greatest Benefit to Prevention and Medical Treatment: Origin and Evolution of Epidemiology.""""""""

Public Health Relevance

This first comprehensive history of epidemiology will fill a gap in the field and provide new inroads to understanding the evolution of this science and its impact on prevention and treatment, and more generally on everyday life.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Library of Medicine (NLM)
Health Sciences Publication Support Awards (NLM) (G13)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZLM1-ZH-P (01))
Program Officer
Vanbiervliet, Alan
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Queens College
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Morabia, Alfredo (2015) Editorial: Epidemiology in History--Three Years Later. Am J Epidemiol 182:899-900
Morabia, Alfredo (2015) Save epidemiology's footprints!: the case of Harvard epidemiology. Epidemiology 26:280-7
Morabia, Alfredo (2015) Has epidemiology become infatuated with methods? A historical perspective on the place of methods during the classical (1945-1965) phase of epidemiology. Annu Rev Public Health 36:69-88
Kahn, Linda G; Morabia, Alfredo (2015) Using the numerical method in 1836, James Jackson bridged French therapeutic epistemology and American medical pragmatism. J Clin Epidemiol 68:397-404
Morabia, Alfredo (2015) Mervyn Susser, the last of the three American classical epidemiology tenors. Ann Epidemiol 25:140-2
Laskaris, Zoey; Morabia, Alfredo (2015) Should the history of epidemiology be taught in epidemiology training programs? Epidemiology 26:133-5
Morabia, Alfredo (2015) Snippets From the Past: Imaginative Designs--Separating Hereditary From Environmental Effects in pre-DNA Times. Am J Epidemiol 182:901-5
Morabia, Alfredo (2014) Interaction - Epidemiology's Brinkmanship. Epidemiol Methods 3:73-77
Morabia, Alfredo (2014) Mervyn Susser and the logic of scientific discovery. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol 28:476-8
Morabia, Alfredo (2014) Invited commentary: do-it-yourself modern epidemiology--at last! Am J Epidemiol 180:669-72

Showing the most recent 10 out of 25 publications