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Disease Maps

Epidemics on the Ground

In the seventeenth century, a map of the plague suggested a radical idea—that the disease was carried and spread by humans. In the nineteenth century, maps of cholera cases were used to prove its waterborne nature. More recently, maps charting the swine flu pandemic caused worldwide panic and sent shockwaves through the medical community. In Disease Maps, Tom Koch contends that to understand epidemics and their history we need to think about maps of varying scale, from the individual body to shared symptoms evidenced across cities, nations, and the world.  

Disease Maps
begins with a brief review of epidemic mapping today and a detailed example of its power. Koch then traces the early history of medical cartography, including pandemics such as European plague and yellow fever, and the advancements in anatomy, printing, and world atlases that paved the way for their mapping. Moving on to the scourge of the nineteenth century—cholera—Koch considers the many choleras argued into existence by the maps of the day, including a new perspective on John Snow’s science and legacy. Finally, Koch addresses contemporary outbreaks such as AIDS, cancer, and H1N1, and reaches into the future, toward the coming epidemics. Ultimately, Disease Maps redefines conventional medical history with new surgical precision, revealing that only in maps do patterns emerge that allow disease theories to be proposed, hypotheses tested, and treatments advanced.

344 pages | 106 color plates, 35 halftones, 6 line drawings, 2 tables | 7 x 10 | © 2011

Geography: Cartography, Geography--Reference

History: General History

History of Science



“In Disease Maps, University of British Columbia medical geographer Tom Koch explores the rich history of using maps to visualize epidemics, from early attempts to chart the menace of plague as it raced across medieval Europe and John Snow’s iconic cholera maps of the 19th century to modern-day depictions of cancer clusters and the spread of AIDS. Festooned with great old illustrations, maps, diagrams, and charts from outbreaks past, Disease Maps urges the reader to witness the genius and folly of the past in order to better map the epidemics of the future.”


"Remarkable. . . . If most people are ever inclined to think about disease mapping, it’s usually in relation to John Snow’s map of the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak in London. Snow, we’re told in the usual triumphalist account, transcended medieval theories of disease transmission . . . ; he plotted cases on a street map, found they centered on a water well, removed that well’s handle, and saved lives. Koch demolishes this history of medical mapping with vicious relish. The result is a marvelous reverse-detective story."—Boston Globe

Boston Globe

"Map geeks, get excited. Tom Koch, a medical geographer in British Columbia, traces the history and contemporary applications of epidemic mapping. . . . The book contains maps of an 1819 yellow fever outbreak in New York, the spread of HIV across America in the 1980s, West Nile virus during the 2000s and dozens more."—Washington Post

Washington Post

Disease Maps is an extraordinary visual and narrative treat. I have come to look forward to Tom Koch’s books for the wonderful and unique way that he can synthesize data and present it visually and in the process tell us magnificent stories.”

Dr. Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

“This is a masterful book in conception and structure. It is also extremely well written. What we find on reading is an exquisite telling of the history of the medical science of disease. The collection of medical maps, diagrams, and other illustrations is impressive in scope—there are many disease maps shown that have not been publicly available before or collected in one place.”

Michael Friendly, York University

"This unconventional history charts the rise of epidemiology by examining how maps have been used to follow the spread of disease."—Science News


“[Disease Maps] is in many ways a fascinating book, not least in illustrating the beneficent power of the often unfairly maligned statistical method.”

Literary Review

"Elegantly written and richly illustrated. . . . Disease Maps is a sumptuous exploration of epidemics of the distant past and the geographical analyses that explained and transformed them. Well-written and replete with detailed, archival maps of episodes of bubonic plague, cholera, and yellow fever, it will delight and inform those who are fascinated by epidemics or those who are simply curious about how doctors of the past attempted to understand and to combat once seemingly cataclysmic events."

New Republic

Disease Maps is an impressive book that delves intothe spatial component of disease understanding. Kochprovides a multidisciplinary compilation of material thereader will notfind elsewhere. His writing style is engaging and provides a broad scope that should be appealing to a variety of audiences.”

Frances Currin Mujica, University of South Alabama | Cartography and Geographic Information Science

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Part I. The Idea That Is Disease

Chapter 1. Moving Forward: Cartographies of Disease

Chapter 2. Mapping Symptoms, Making Disease

Chapter 3. Body and World: The Sixteenth Century

Chapter 4. Diseases in Cities: The Neighborhoods of Plague

Chapter 5. The Yellow Fever Thing

Part II. Cholera: The Exemplar

Chapter 6. “Asiatic Cholera”: India and Then the World

Chapter 7. Bureaucratic Cholera

Chapter 8. John Snow’s Cholera

Chapter 9. South London Choleras: William Farr, John Snow, and John Simon

Chapter 10. Choleric Broad Street: The Neighborhood Disease

Chapter 11. Cholera, the Exemplar

Part III. The Legacy and Its Future

Chapter 12. Cancer as Cholera



Notes on the Illustrations

Illustration Credits


Works Cited and Consulted


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