From the point of view of historians of medicine, the coronavirus pandemic is a challenge to modern states and societies, and the liberal cultures they have created. In the very recent past, mass infectious morbidity was quite common, but today it has given rise to panic and seems has thrown global civilization back two centuries. This pandemic has revived the importance of nation-states and borders between countries. Each country around the world is experimenting in the struggle for survival, developing and implementing various administrative practices to combat the epidemic. They are accompanied by the production of a large array of texts, including health statistics and options for their interpretation.
Russia as an object of study gives medical historians some advantages. First, the vastness and specificity of Russia’s territory, including the different landscapes and climatic zones, have created and still pose various threats to the health of residents; even Russia’s location between Asian and European sources of infections (natural focal points) has made and makes the country susceptible to pandemics coming from both the east and the west. Secondly, Russia is interesting because of the nature of the political regimes that have changed over the last two centuries, and whose differing ideologies have played out differently in the lives of the population. This allows us to look at Russia like a laboratory of epidemiological experiments. In collecting statistics on the coronavirus pandemic, we consider such information as an instrument in establishing control of the epidemic, and a means to monitoring and making administrative decisions. In a long-term retrospective, studying the structure of collecting statistics, its distortion, and the ability to create zones of visibility and invisibility will allow us to establish how the statistical mechanism has influenced the management of epidemics and social fears as well as the justification of unpopular political decisions. Specifically, we are looking at two primary research questions: What mechanisms have been used to count infectious diseases when monitoring the situation of territories? And how has the use of digital indicators of infectious morbidity in local and transnational situations been carried out when making administrative decisions, as well as in information wars?
Professors Sergey Zatravkin and Elena Vishlenkova, researchers at the Center for the History of Medicine at the Higher School of Economics University in Moscow and the Department of the History of Medicine of the Semashko Public Health Research Institute have been collaborating on the development of a history of medical statistics in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, and have been widely published on this work.