Friday seminar: Infection and Evolution: Hospital Hygiene, Antibiotics and Infectious Disease, 1950-1990

By Dr.phil. Christoph Gradmann, Professor at the Department of Community Medicine and Global Health, University of Oslo.


In the 19th century hospitals, former death sinks, had become harbingers of scientific medicine. With the arrival of sulphas and antibiotics hospital medicine appeared to be omnipotent in relation to infectious disease for a historic moment. Yet, the story quickly took a different turn: Instead of a demise of infectious disease what followed was the arrival of a host of phenomena where the biology of infections interacted with the technology invented for their control. In practice this meant the pathologies caused by resistant bacteria or nosocomial infections in immunocompromised patients. Such phenomena seemed intimately related to the tools of modern anti-infective therapy, be they antibiotics or intensive care units. As a result the 1950s to 1970s became decades of a search for up-to-date hospital hygiene. How did medical microbiology react to a situation where hospitals, intended as a hygienic spaces, had become one of the most dangerous places to be for a patient? One conspicuous feature of debates was that theories of disease evolution that had been a matter for specialized biology for most of the century began to be viewed with more curiosity by clinicians. With infections evolving swiftly under their eyes, medical microbiology finally discovered disease evolution.


Dr.phil. Christoph Gradmann is a professor in History of Medicine, with a research focus mainly on the history of infectious disease in modernity (19th ct to present). His point of departure was the cultural history and the history of science of late 19th ct German medical bacteriology. He is currently employed at the Department of Community Medicine and Global Health at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo.

Published Jan. 8, 2018 11:26 AM - Last modified Jan. 19, 2021 8:39 AM