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Department of Geography



Doctors, deaths, diagnoses and data: a comparative study of the medical certification of cause of death in nineteenth century Scotland

Wellcome Trust for the History of Medicine funded project

In Epidemic Streets Anne Hardy wrote that 'the investigation of the local and particular circumstances of death and disease in the cities, towns, and countryside of Victorian England has been largely neglected' (Hardy, 1993; p. 2). This project aims to remedy that situation, albeit from a Scottish perspective. The findings will contribute to a better understanding of the historic relationship between doctors, their diagnoses of cause of death, and the data created from these which has informed previous interpretations of changes over time and of social and spatial differentials in health and medical provision.

The project examines comparisons of medical provision to fatal cases in urban and rural Scotland in the late nineteenth century. The project allows for the augmentation of the data collected by the Demography of Victorian Scotland project by adding the certifying doctors' names to the data already transcribed from the death certificates of the study communities, and collecting biographical and professional information about these doctors from contemporary medical directories. The project will firstly examine and compare the characteristics of the doctors when they were working in each place, and create profiles of the socio-economic backgrounds of their patients. Secondly, the project will be examine causes of death, to ascertain the extent to which diagnoses of cause of death varied over time due to a different mix of medical personnel, to a changing clientele, to progress in medical knowledge, and to changes in the incidence or lethality of certain diseases. Thirdly, a greater understanding will be obtained of the contrasts in the availability of medical services to people living in rural areas compared to urban areas in late nineteenth century Scotland, and how this may have had an impact on the diseases reported to the Registrar.