Next Webinar 11 November

Please join us on 11 November at 1600 CET for the next PANSOC webinar with Sharon DeWitte from the University of South Carolina. Contact for a link.

Social Inequality and Pandemic Mortality: the Biosocial Context of the 14th-Century Black Death

Dr. DeWitte will discuss her bioarchaeological research on demographic and health trends before, during, and after the 14th-century Black Death in London. Her research reveals declines in health before the Black Death, but improvements thereof in the aftermath of the epidemic. These trends occurred in the context of changes in social inequality, highlighting its potential role in shaping health outcomes during infectious disease pandemics.

Dr. Sharon DeWitte (PhD. 2006, Pennsylvania State University) is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of South Carolina. She is a biological anthropologist who specializes in paleodemography and paleoepidemiology – the reconstruction of population-level patterns of demography (mortality, fertility, and migration) and health using human skeletal remains ethically excavated and curated from archaeological sites. She is particularly interested in infectious diseases and famine conditions in the past, and focuses on determining how factors such as sex, gender, social status, health, developmental stress, nutritional status, and geographic origin affected risks of mortality during such crises. For over 15 years, her research has primarily focused on trends in health and demography before, during, and after the 14th-century outbreak of bubonic plague, the “Black Death”, in England. She is also generally interested in expanding the tools available to bioarchaeologists to examine health in the past in ways that put them in dialogue with human biologists studying living people. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the American Association of University Women, and the School for Advanced Research.

PANSOC-affiliated student won prize at a pandemic research conference

The three PANSOC-affiliated masters students, Carla Hughes, Lara Steinmetz and Christina Torjussen, all presented their projects at a pandemic research student conference in Bergen 27. October. We at PANSOC are super-proud of the all and Christina even won a prize for her work and presentation.

Kan være et bilde av en eller flere personer, folk som står og innendørs
To the far right, Eperanza Diaz Perez, leader of the Pandemic Resarch Centre in Bergen and host of the conference. Christina Torjussen at PANSOC in the middle of the picture.

Next PANSOC webinar

Please join us October 28 at 1600 CET for the next PANSOC webinar. Contact if you need a Zoom link.

Hampton Gaddy, University of Oxford, will present: “Re-estimating the global and national death tolls of the 1918-20 pandemic: Updating Johnson and Mueller (2002).”

The last two decades have seen the study of the 1918-20 influenza pandemic emerge as a field in its own right; the quantitative and qualitative description of most aspects of the pandemic have improved greatly in their depth and rigour. However, there has been little organised progress towards refining the available estimates of how many deaths the pandemic caused on global, regional, and national levels since the often-cited work of Johnson and Mueller (2002). In this paper, I perform an extensive literature review to chart the progress of the last twenty years in this area, and in doing so, I propose new consensus estimates of the pandemic’s death toll within more than 140 national borders. From those estimates, I produce three main results. First, I suggest that the pandemic killed 45 to 60 million people globally. This estimate equates to 2.4% to 3.2% of the world population at the time and is the narrowest well-founded global estimate to date. Second, I note the main geographical and contextual gaps in the field’s understanding of the pandemic’s mortality on the national level. In particular, I point out the lack of research on indigenous and military populations, as well as Eastern Europe, China, the Middle East, North Africa, East Africa, and Southeast Asia. Third, I use my revised national mortality estimates to demonstrate that several high-profile findings about the pandemic, its global correlates, and its global effects are poorly founded.

Hampton Gaddy is an MPhil Candidate in Sociology and Demography at the University of Oxford. His work on this topic was awarded the Oxford Institute of Human Sciences’ 2021 Wilma Crowther Prize for best BA dissertation.

Next webinar 21 October at 1600 CET

Please join us for our next webinar – contact if you need a Zoom link.

From Cholera to COVID19: Continuity and Change in Iran’s Pandemic Experience.

Amir A. Afkhami will present an overview of pandemic cholera’s seminal role in the emergence and development of modernity in Iran during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries including cholera’s transformative impact on the country’s governance and changing perspectives on medicine, disease, and public health.  And the continuity of these historic and political determinants in Tehran’s public health policy against the current COVID19 pandemic.

Amir A. Afkhami, MD, PhD, DFAPA is an associate professor with joint appointments in psychiatry, global health, and history at the George Washington University. He is also the clerkship director and director of medical student education at the George Washington University School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and recipient of the APA’s Roeske Award for Excellence in Medical Student Education. He is the author of A Modern Contagion: Imperialism and Public Health in Iran’s Age of Cholera (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019). Previously, he served on the legislative staff of US Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) as an RWJF Health Policy Fellow, and has led a number of international capacity building initiatives in conflict zones including  the U.S. State Department’s Iraq Mental Health Initiative to rebuild Iraq’s mental health delivery capabilities.

Video from 7 October webinar + other links

Watch the latest webinar here:

You can read more about some of the referenced research here:

Plague in seventeenth-century Europe and the decline of Italy: an epidemiological hypothesis

A survival analysis of the last great European plagues: The case of Nonantola (Northern Italy) in 1630

Epidemics, Inequality and Poverty in Preindustrial and Early Industrial Times

And catch up on other past webinars here:

October 14 webinar canceled

Due to unexpected circumstances, the webinar with Lianne Tripp will not be held. We hope to reschedule it in the future.

October 7 Webinar

Contact if you need a link to our Thursday’s webinar 16:00-17:00 (CET).

Guido Alfani, Bocconi University, will present:

“Unravelling the Mysteries of Seventeenth-Century Plagues: The Contribution of Micro-Demographic Approaches”

Of all the major pandemics of the past, those which have been caused by plague have attracted the greatest attention. And yet, most studies focused on the big picture, looking at the overall demographic, economic and social impact of plagues – and not even of all plagues, but especially of the main pandemic of medieval and early modern times: the Black Death of 1347-52. For such an early period, the available sources somehow restrict the possibility of gaining insights into the epidemiological (and social) mechanisms that allowed Yersinia Pestis to cause what remains the worst pandemic in European history, with an overall mortality rate of about 50% in the continent and in the broader Mediterranean area. As a consequence of this, many aspects of this pandemic remain mysterious, including possibly the main one: how exactly could plague kill such a large share of the population? Arguably, looking at the last great European plagues of the seventeenth century, which in the South of the continent led to mortality rates not very far from the Black Death, offers insights into the inner workings of all plague epidemics of medieval and early modern times. This, because for the seventeenth century a greater variety of historical sources is available, which allow to proceed to micro-demographic analyses of a kind that would be impossible for earlier events. Although studies of this kind remain rare, also due to the substantial investment in data collection from archival sources that they require, they are already leading to a significant change in the way we think of past plagues, and they seem to hold the promise to one day solve some long-standing historical mysteries.

Guido Alfani is Professor of Economic History at Bocconi University, Milan (Italy). He is also an Affiliated Scholar of the Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality, New York (U.S.). An economic and social historian and an historical demographer, he published extensively on inequality and social mobility in the long run, on the history of epidemics (especially of plague) and of famines, and on systems of social alliance. Recent works include The Lion’s Share. Inequality and the Rise of the Fiscal State in Preindustrial Europe (2019, with Matteo Di Tullio) and Famine in European History (2017, with Cormac Ó Gráda). During 2012-16 he was the Principal Investigator of the project EINITE-Economic Inequality across Italy and Europe, 1300-1800 (, funded by the European Research Council (ERC), and from 2017 he is the Principal Investigator of a second ERC project, SMITE-Social Mobility and Inequality across Italy and Europe 1300-1800.