A demographer interested in demographic history, I study the mortality transition-- particularly the rapid decline in death rates that began in the late nineteenth century and continued in the early twentieth in US cities. I have used Philadelphia as a case study in most of my research and relied on the availability of a unique data set collected as part of a large project on the social history of Philadelphia. My current research is for a paper entitled, "The Bureaucratization of Death," in which I use Philadelphia data to trace the changes in disease concepts, in medical technology, and in the medical profession and the effect these changes have on our understanding of the sources of the mortality decline.
In two recent papers, I have looked at the infant mortality rate and the rate of death from diphtheria in Philadelphia to examine the role of medicine in the decline of mortality. The designation of the Klebs-Loeffler bacillus as the cause of diphtheria in the early 1890s and the subsequent development of the antitoxin treatment in the years immediately following were at the time and continue to be viewed as triumphs of scientific medicine and its reductionist view of disease causality. Infant mortality, on the other hand, has had a different history. Historically, public health workers, physicians, and reformers have used the infant mortality rate as an indicator of the goodness of a society - its general welfare, the justness of its political system, the efficacy of its public works, the benevolence of its powerful; a high rate of death among the very young was an index of a community's shame.
These views of the infant mortality rate as reflecting general characteristics of a society were widely displayed in the second half of the nineteenth century even as most disease entities, including diphtheria, were becoming more narrowly defined and ordinarily linked not to the nature of society or individual predisposition but to specific pathological organisms. These contrasting case studies shed light on the limited role of medical technology and the multicausal nature of the mortality decline.
Klugman, J, G Condran, M Wray. 2013. "The Role of Medicolegal Systems in Producing Geographic Variation in Suicide Rates." Social Science Quarterly.
Condran, G. and Murphy, J. 2008. "Defining and Managing Infant Mortality: a Case Study of Philadelphia, 1870 to 1920." Forthcoming, Social Science History.
Condran, G. 2008. "The Role of Medicine in Mortality Decline: The Case of Diphtheria in the Late Nineteenth Century." Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 63:4. 484-522.
Condran, G. 2004. "Commentary: History in the Search of Policy." International Journal of Epidemiology 33:1-2.