LAST UPDATE : July 30, 2010





History of Epidemiologic Ideas, Methods and Concepts




History of Epidemiologic Ideas by Alfredo Morabia
20th Erasmus Summer Programme
Erasmus Medical Center
August 16 - 20, 2010, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Faculty : Alfredo Morabia
Date : August 16 - 20, 2010
Time : 13:00 - 18:00
Course days: jMonday to Friday
Prerequisites: jNo absolute pre-requisite but familiarity with the material taught in introductory and intermediate-level epidemiology courses is useful as the lectures move rapidly from basic to more advanced material.

This is a methodology course, which focuses on the historical evolution of methods (e.g., study designs) and concepts (e.g., confounding, bias, interaction and causal inference) that constitute today's epidemiology.  For each topic, we review and discuss the historical contexts and some landmark studies that led to specific innovations in terms of performance of group comparisons, population thinking and framing of hypotheses. We finally discuss the historical conditions for the emergence of epidemiology as a scientific discipline, the phases it went through and its potential, future developments. 25 hrs.

Recommended book: A History of Epidemiologic Methods and Concepts, Birkhauser; 1 edition (Oct. 2004), ISBN: 3764368187.


History of Epidemiologic Ideas by Alfredo Morabia
19th Erasmus Summer Programme
Erasmus Medical Center
August 17 - 21, 2009, Rotterdam, The Netherlands


History of Epidemiologic Ideas by Alfredo Morabia
18th Erasmus Summer Programme
Erasmus Medical Center
August 20 - 24, 2008, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

History of Epidemiologic Methods and Concepts by Alfredo Morabia
26th Ammual Graduate Summer Institute of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
June 23 - 27, 2008, Baltimore, Marylandbia
More detail to be posted on the Institute website in January 2008


History of Epidemiologic Ideas by Alfredo Morabia
17th Erasmus Summer Programme
August 8 - 26, 2006 Rotterdam, The Netherlands


Advanced Methods in Epidemiology: History and Concepts by Alfredo Morabia and Sharon Schwartz
Interuniversitäres Weiterbildungsprogramm PUBLIC HEALTH & Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Geneva
Geneva, January 5-7, 2006

History of Epidemiologic Ideas by Alfredo Morabia
16th Erasmus Summer Programme
August 8 - 26, 2006 Rotterdam, The Netherlands

History of Epidemiologic Ideas by Alfredo Morabia
Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine University of KwaZulu-Natal,
October, 23 - 27, Durban, South Africa


History of Epidemiologic Ideas by Alfredo Morabia
15th Erasmus Summer Programme
August 8 - 26, 2005 Rotterdam, The Netherlands



International School of the History of Biomedical Sciences

10th Course, July 1-10, 1996, Centre des Pensières, Annecy, France

Course directors: W.F. Bynum (London), B. Fantini (Genève), M.D. Grmek (Paris), A. Morabia (Genève).

From the New Epidemiology Monitor, Aug/Sept 1996, p. 2, 3 and 10

History of Epidemiology Is Focus of 10-Day Workshop

"What a Fantastic Course!" Says One Epidemiologist/Historian

"The approach we used was original. Epidemiologists will like reading about our work!" These are the statements Alfredo Morabia, Geneva-based epidemiologist and co-organizer of the first workshop of the History of Epidemiology held in Annecy, France in early July. Confirming and even going beyond Dr. Morabia's excitement are the sentiments of University of Hawaii epidemiologist/historian David Morens, who calls the workshop "by far the most exciting experience of my professional career since the EIS. It was not your typical workshop, but a small collection of knowledgeable senior and junior epidemiologists clustered together in an intimate setting for 10 days. It was more like being part of a think tank in a very unusual environmental with long leisurely meals. As much happened then as at the conference tables!"

Attended by 20 faculty and 10 students, the participants focused on the history of epidemiologic methods, including tracing the history of the concepts of confounding and bias. "We achieved quite a synthesis of information," according to Morabia, "and we identified so many fields where more historical research needs to be done. For example, the history of screening does not seem to have been investigated", he added.

Among the topics covered at this workshop were:

  • the history of the concept of infection;
  • early Victorian epidemiology;
  • colonial medicine and epidemiology;
  • public health and epidemiology-19th century;
  • history of case-control studies;
  • history of confounding and interaction;
  • history of bias in observational medicine;
  • history of cohort studies; and assessment of causality in occupation health

New discoveries

Part of the reason for the excitement among the participants was the feeling that "we were doing something for the first time," says Morens, describing the work of the group. "We attempted to put on the table the 'tidbits' of epidemiologic history that many of us know. We had the feeling we were creating the basic body of knowledge that is to become the history of epidemiology," says Morens. According to Morabia, participants did not discover new things about history as much as they identified elements that appeared to be more important than previously thought.

For example, many epidemiologists believe the period between 1880-1940 was not particularly noteworthy for its accomplishments and that epidemiologists during this time were overshadowed by bacteriologists making important new discoveries about the etiology of disease. In fact, the period was a very productive one; the methods for outbreak investigations and the mode of transmission of many diseases were established, and the limits of bacteriology in explaining disease outbreaks were first noted, Morabia explains.

Not just a hobby anymore

This workshop reflects a "big change" in the study of the history of epidemiology, he continues. Heretofore, the study of epidemiology's history has been mostly a "hobby," Morabia says, and from now on professional historians will get involved. "It will take years but we will know the history of the field and not be left as we are now with mostly anecdotes," he says.

The workshop was organized as part of a series of sessions on the history of medicine sponsored each year by the Wellcome Institute and the Mérieux Foundation. Epidemiologists such as Morabia were contacted to help organize this session on epidemiology because "historians see epidemiology as one of the main disciplines in medicine and one which has used the most original approaches to thinking about disease and causation," according to Morabia. In attendance was Mirko Grmek, probably the world's leading medical historian, according to Morens.

The workshop 's success is being attributed in part to the variety of backgrounds among the faculty. Some were professional historians, such as William Bynum of the Wellcome Institute; others were epidemiologists who have made history in epidemiology such as Richard Doll, Ernst Wnder and Milton Terris, and finally others were epidemiologists interested in history such as Morens who has written on the subject.

A 400-500 page book is expected to be issued by Alfredo Morabia and his colleague Bernardino Fantini from the Louis Jeantet Institute for the History of Medicine also located in Geneva.

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