Pathogens, Pandemics and the Development of Nordic Societies (NORDEMICS)

In the 19th Century, infectious diseases such as smallpox, cholera, whooping cough and measles were a terrible part of everyday life in the Nordic countries, killing 1 in 5 children before their first birthday. While infectious diseases have faded from the Nordic region today, they have not gone away. Familiar infectious diseases continue to exact a heavy toll in many parts of the world, and new pathogens continue to emerge; in 2018 WHO added "Disease X" to their list of infectious disease threats to emphasize the threat of an unknown pathogen. That threat materialized in December 2019, as the world encountered the SARS-CoV-2 virus. To cope with these emerging threats, a clear understanding of forces that drive the dissemination, impact and control of infectious pandemics is essential.

We propose to create NORDEMICS, a Nordic interdisciplinary consortium dedicated to understanding how factors such as urbanization, increased trade and travel, large-scale migration, vaccines and other public health interventions, climate change and ecological degradation influence the dynamics of epidemic and pandemic infections in human populations. The consortium will systematically study historical health data to understand the patterns of spread and health impact of such diseases in the Nordic countries over the last 300 years.

We will take full advantage of the Nordic countries’ unique and zealous tradition of record-keeping, which has produced troves of quantitative health and mortality data stretching far into the past, but which have yet to be comprehensively analyzed. We will apply cutting-edge mathematical modeling techniques to these data, while thoroughly integrating the analytical methods and insights of historians, demographers and economists in a truly interdisciplinary environment.

Combined with insights into the social, environmental, economic and demographic context, our effort will yield a deep quantitative understanding of past pandemics that will allow us to draw a detailed picture of pandemic and epidemic diseases in the pre-modern era. In short, the proposed Consortium will reveal important insights into the major diseases that shaped human society, and broaden the knowledge base that helps us prepare for future pandemics.