The history of yellow fever dates back to the 1600s when the first recorded outbreaks occurred in the Caribbean. In the centuries that followed, researchers and physicians sought to understand and combat this deadly disease. Early theories about yellow fever attributed its transmission to “contagious air,” meteorological phenomena, and microbes. Significant advances were made around 1900 when the U.S. Army invested heavily in yellow fever research and established the U.S. Army Yellow Fever Commission. The Commission was led by Walter Reed, a major in the U.S. Army who received his medical degree from the University of Virginia in 1869. Reed and his team would ultimately confirm the vector for yellow fever: a species of mosquito known as Aedes aegypti.
A new exhibit, Fever Charts: Data Visualization and the History of Yellow Fever Research, now on display in the lobby of the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, examines data visualizations used throughout many years of yellow fever research and explores their depictions of scientific insights, dead-ends, false positives, and dramatic discoveries. The maps and graphs tell a story as compelling as that of Walter Reed and the U.S. Army Yellow Fever Commission. They demonstrate the power of organized information and show that even the best-designed visualizations can be uninformative (or even disinformative) when applied to confounded or statistically questionable claims.
Fever Charts was designed and researched by VP Nagraj, Research Data Analyst at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, with support from Dan Cavanaugh and Emily Bowden of Historical Collections & Services. The exhibit draws on unique historical materials from the Library’s Philip S. Hench Walter Reed Yellow Fever Collection. It will be on display from November 14, 2016 until February 2017.