Mapping the Miasma: Air, Health, and Place in Early Medical Mapping


  • Tom Koch



Edmond Chadwick, history science, history medicine, medical mapping, miasma


Medical mapping is broadly assumed to have been a nineteenth century reaction both to the appearance of cholera and the social consciousness of principally British reformers. It is however older, more embedded in the scientific enterprise than the social critique, and in the end, more central to both than researchers typically recognize. This paper argues that medical mapping was from its start in the late 1600s principally a tool for the self-conscious testing of spatial propositions, arguing a relationship between health and place, and between the locus of specific disease incidence and suspected sites of local infectious generation. Through the nineteenth century the resulting work--social and medical— typically advanced a miasmatic theory that argued that infectious diseases were generated spontaneously and diffused naturally through the air. This paper reviews the history of medical cartography as a scientific enterprise in the age of miasma, and the importance of this work to social reformers as an outcome rather than a principal impetus to mapping as a critical tool.




How to Cite

Koch, T. (2005). Mapping the Miasma: Air, Health, and Place in Early Medical Mapping. Cartographic Perspectives, (52), 4–27.



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