Lukas Engelmann

Chancellor's Fellow, Senior Lecturer - History and Sociology of Biomedicine
University of Edinburgh


Lukas Engelmann is a Chancellor’s Fellow and Senior Lecturer in the History and Sociology of Biomedicine at the University of Edinburgh. He leads the Epidemy Lab, which is concerned with the history and present of epidemiological reasoning in the twentieth century, funded by an ERC Starting Grant since 2020. His first book, Mapping AIDS, was published with Cambridge University Press in 2018 and considers the visual and medical history of AIDS/HIV. He also published a co-authored monograph with Christos Lynteris, Sulphuric Utopias, with MIT Press 2020, which tells the technological history of fumigation and the political history of maritime sanitation at the turn of the twentieth century.



"Modelling Infectious Disease –  Building a Science of Epidemics in the 20th Century"

Formal epidemiology gained a new identity as expertise in statistical reasoning and disease modelling over the twentieth century. Rather than to gather information on the epidemic streets, to understand local, social and ecological conditions of disease distribution in societies, this new way of knowing was geared towards the invention, design and curation of epidemic theory and general laws. This new division of arm-chair epidemiology has led to the formation of Infectious Disease Modelling as a field defined by mathematical reasoning about the dynamics of contagious phenomena. My contribution will seek to characterise and situate this field and its protagonists in the second half of the twentieth century to map out its porous boundaries to information science, microbiology, computer and data science. With a focus on the pivotal publications by Roy Anderson and Robert May, I ask for the conditions under which their ‘population biology of infectious diseases’ (1979) gained the astonishing influence to set up a ‘dynasty of dedicated’ infectious disease modellers that continue to shape global public health policy to the present. Infectious Disease Modelling flourished, I argue, due to its ambition to offer instruments of analysis and intervention that worked across specific pathogens, epidemics and crises, and importantly, also held relevance for infectious phenomena beyond the world of disease.