Leverhulme Lecture Series


Stalking Microbes: Antibiotic Resistance, Nosocomial Infections and the Demise of the Modern Hospital 1950 - 1990

Part of An Unnatural History: The Re-Emergence of Infectious Disease in the 20th Century, a series of five lectures over Hilary and Trinity terms supported by the Leverhulme Trust.

In the late 19th century hospitals were seen as harbingers of scientific medicine. Equipped with antisepsis, serum therapy and surgical theatres they heralded the promise that the laboratory revolution entailed for infectious disease: To create environments where such conditions could be controlled. The arrival of rational therapies based on the application of sulphas and antibiotics from the mid 1930ies replied to this promise and hospital medicine appeared to be omnipotent in relation to infectious disease for a historic moment.

Yet, the story took a different turn quickly. The arrival of new pathologies caused by resistant bacteria, nosocomial infections and so forth all seemed to be intimately related to the practice of modern anti-infective therapy. What was worst was that it seemed that the place where such problems culminated was the modern hospital itself! As a result, the 1950s to 1980s became decades of a search for an up-to-date hospital hygiene. It is the story of this search and of the responsible medical discipline, hospital hygiene that the lecture will follow.

Medical Humanities

Contact name: Christoph Gradmann
Contact email: christoph.gradmann@wuhmo.ox.ac.uk
Audience: Open to all