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September 26 - September 28

Call for Papers – Tuberculosis: The White Death as a Social Disease

Deadline for submission: 30 April 2024



Tuberculosis has been a significant public health concern, affecting millions of people worldwide throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and even nowadays in certain parts of the world. It has captivated attention due to its profound impact and intriguing debates. Tuberculosis held a dominant position as the leading cause of death at various stages of life, especially during young adulthood. Additionally, the persistent nature of tuberculosis led to a high prevalence and burden of the disease. Unresolved discussions have centred around the key factors influencing geographical, gender, age, and temporal disparities in mortality, with a particular focus on the role of resistance (which can be affected by nutrition as well as other interfering diseases) versus exposure. These debates encompass differentials in tuberculosis mortality between men and women, disparities in urban-rural and other geographical patterns, and the underlying factors contributing to the decline in mortality during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One central point of contention concerns the reasons behind higher death rates from tuberculosis among women compared to men, and whether this disparity was attributable to inherent female susceptibility, inadequate nutrition, or differential exposure. A prominent viewpoint posited that the elevated tuberculosis rates among women resulted from their weaker bargaining power within households, leading to inferior nutrition (McNay, Humphries and Klasen 2005). The geographic patterns of tuberculosis mortality were not straightforward either. Researchers have suggested that high tuberculosis rates in rural areas could be attributed to the return migration of individuals (especially women) who had contracted the disease in urban settings (Cronje 1984; Hinde 2015). Nutrition also emerged as a factor implicated in the substantial decline of tuberculosis during the late nineteenth century (McKeown 1976). The decline in tuberculosis has traditionally been also attributed to improving living standards, better housing, hygiene and sanitary reforms, and improvements in environmental conditions (among others, Gronjé 1984; Pooley and Pooley 1984; Puranen 1991; Vögele 1988).


Despite the severity and significant mortality associated with tuberculosis in historical populations, the investigation of the disease’s demographic characteristics has unfortunately received relatively limited attention. Significant gaps exist in the available evidence concerning the trend of tuberculosis mortality and morbidity, with a predominant focus on historical North-Western Europe, specifically Britain and/or North America. This leaves a noticeable dearth of information from Eastern and Southern Europe, but also beyond Europe (i.e., South America, Asia, and Africa), hindering a comprehensive understanding of the disease’s impact in these regions.


The workshop is organized by the IUSSP Scientific Panel on ‘Epidemics and Contagious Diseases: The Legacy of the Past, in collaboration with the University of Sassari, Italy. We welcome submissions on any aspect of tuberculosis mortality and/or morbidity patterns during the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, both within Europe and elsewhere. Papers may specifically explore the relationship between tuberculosis fatality and socioeconomic and/or employment status, as well as occupational exposure and segregation. They can explore the relationship between tuberculosis and certain other diseases and/or epidemics or pandemics, such as the 1918/19 flu pandemic. Papers investigating tuberculosis co-morbidities and seeking to identify spatial patterns among communities in the past are also welcome. From a methodological point of view, the papers can be based on quantitative as well as qualitative methods. In this perspective, studies may also focus on the state interventions to address high tuberculosis mortality.


The workshop will be held in Alghero, Sardinia in September 2024, hosted by the Department of Economic and Business Sciences at the University of Sassari.



Please submit your paper using the IUSSP Abstract Submission Form


Please fill out the form and include:

  • a title
  •  a short abstract (150–200 words)


School of Architecture, Design, and Urban Planning (University of Sassari), Bastioni Marco Polo 77, Alghero (Sassari), Italy.



  • Lucia Pozzi (University of Sassari, Italy)
  • Michail Raftakis (University of Bologna, Italy)
  • Gabriele Ruiu (University of Sassari, Italy)

If you have any questions regarding the workshop, please contact lpozzi@uniss.itmichail.raftakis@unibo.it, and gruiu@uniss.it.


September 26
September 28


University of Sassari
University of Bologna


School of Architecture, Design, and Urban Planning (University of Sassari)
Bastioni Marco Polo 77
Alghero, Sassari Italy
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