Spatial Analysis of Boston’s 1872 Death Records to Investigate Historical Disease Patterns

Authors: Ivy Marr*, Castleton University
Topics: Historical Geography, Medical and Health Geography, Spatial Analysis & Modeling
Keywords: GIS, HGIS, Boston, disease patterns, spatial analysis, historical maps
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Truman, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The spread of infectious diseases in both current and historical outbreaks is of interest to epidemiologists and historians. While it is difficult to obtain spatial data on current outbreaks due to confidentiality laws, historical death data is available in many areas. This study used the 1872 death records from Boston, Massachusetts to evaluate the effectiveness of using GIS and spatial analysis techniques to both geocode historical addresses and draw conclusions about death and disease patterns in the past. The dataset included the date, cause, and location of death (street address), as well as demographic information on the deceased. The records were transcribed from longhand and imported into ArcGIS. Shapefiles were created using both historical maps and modern Census information, and the locations of the addresses were geocoded. Preliminary analyses (based on data from January through March 1872) found that 72% of the addresses were able to be automatically or manually matched. Spatial analysis techniques were applied to the data to look for patterns in location and clustering of specific diseases. Both smallpox and measles showed statistically significant clustering compared to all deaths at distances less than one mile; tuberculosis—did not. Though not all the data was able to be spatially located due to missing information and changes in the geography of the city over the past 150 years, the data that was mapped shows interesting settlement, demographic, and diseases patterns that are potentially relevant today.

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