Stanford senior wins international award for research on 19th-century cholera maps

Lauren Killingsworth
Lauren Killingsworth

Stanford senior LAUREN KILLINGSWORTH has been recognized by an international undergraduate awards program for her research on cholera maps in 19th-century Europe.

Killingsworth’s research paper was named a 2017 Global Winner by The Undergraduate Awards, an Ireland-based nonprofit. Her paper was one of 25 recognized across the world from a pool of 6,472 submitted papers.

Killingsworth, who is majoring in biology and minoring in history, wrote her paper, “Mapping Public Health in Nineteenth-Century Oxford,” while studying at the University of Oxford as part of Stanford’s Bing Overseas Studies Program.

“I couldn’t believe it at first,” Killingsworth said of the honor. “I’m proud to be a part of both the sciences and humanities at Stanford, and I’m grateful for professors who helped me to find intersections between those two areas.”

Every year, The Undergraduate Awards assembles an international panel of academics and industry leaders to assess papers from junior and senior undergraduates. Through a rigorous judging process, it honors the best, most innovative and creative coursework in 25 categories.

Killingsworth’s paper, which won in the history category, examined the evolution of medical cartography in the second half of the 19th century.

Killingsworth said she has always been interested in historical maps and epidemiology, a branch of medicine dealing with the spread and control of diseases.

“Maps are symbols of power,” Killingsworth said. “They’re powerful in communicating issues and asserting control.”

While at Oxford, Killingsworth said she was particularly inspired by the archival materials she found. While researching, Killingsworth came across a map documenting the spread of cholera in Oxford in an 1848 pamphlet made by physician William P. Ormerod.

The detailed map surprised her because it predated the famous 1854 map of cholera outbreaks in the Soho District of London that was created by John Snow, who is considered to be the father of modern epidemiology. Snow’s map, in which he marked each cholera death with a black bar and plotted each water pump, helped show the connection between the disease and contaminated water.

“People seemed to really praise Ormerod’s map a lot and pointed out how it showed different parts of town being affected by cholera differently, demonstrating an existing inequality,” Killingsworth said. “It’s an example of how cartography can help illuminate issues and disparities.”

Killingsworth said she hopes that the recognition for her work inspires others to learn more about cartography and the history of medicine.

“Having this international recognition means that other people found my work interesting too,” she said. “And that’s great because I think there should be more focus on the history of science and medicine.”