Lifting the burden of disease The modernisation of health in the Netherlands: Amsterdam, 1854-1926


Parental resistance against vaccinations for childhood diseases is rising in European societies. The burden of infectious diseases in the past seems to be forgotten. The escape from this burden is a crucial part of the rising life expectancy, even before mass vaccination programs were introduced. The international academic debate on how we succeeded in lifting this deadly burden is raging with full force, mainly focussing on nutrition, economic factors, and public and private hygiene. In the Dutch debate cultural factors have been emphasized. A fundamental drawback of current research however is the use of highly-aggregated data, making it impossible to move beyond general outlines and explanations open to ecological fallacy. Recently, truly unique data have become available enabling us to contextualise death and disease at the individual level and to move beyond high aggregations and limited disease classifications set up by nineteenth-century health practitioners. The project proposes a multi-perspective approach to these individual-level data, combining 1) an historical-epidemiological approach, 2) a life-course analysis of victims and survivors, and 3) a spatial analysis of death and disease at the city level. This novel micro-level approach promises to make an important breakthrough in the current academic debate on the determinants of the great leaps in life expectancy before the 1930s. This project, based on data for the city of Amsterdam between 1854-1926, will reveal the success of the fight against infectious diseases, but also what remained of this burden before the start of the mass vaccination program.





Prof. dr. A.A.P.O. Janssens

Verbonden aan

Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Faculteit der Letteren, Afdeling Geschiedenis


01/09/2019 tot 31/08/2022